The year 2016 promises to be an eventful one for energy in the U.S. and nations throughout the world, with more turbulence in oil and natural gas markets, new opportunities for solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy, and increasing challenges for the electric grid.
The extraordinary slump in oil and natural gas prices is likely to continue this year, with both good and bad implications, depending on which side of the pump is important to you. For consumers, low prices will mean more savings when they fuel their vehicles and homes. But for oil and gas producers, and the entire industry that supports their operations, low prices will dampen the resurgence of U.S. production and lead to more layoffs, bankruptcies and mergers.
How extensive is the toll of the price decline on the U.S. shale revolution? How quickly can oil and gas producers recover? What fundamental changes are likely to occur in the oil and gas sector? What lies in store for world oil markets, with new production from Iran likely and discord in OPEC festering?
Amid the volatility in oil and gas markets comes a heightened global commitment to addressing climate change. The historic agreement in Paris calls for the U.S. and nearly 200 other nations to step up their actions to avoid a catastrophic increase in temperatures, including the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. At the same time, the costs of solar, wind and other lower-emission energy keep going down, making it more affordable than ever for utilities, homeowners and business owners to install systems.
What obstacles face implementation of the Clean Power Plan? Can ongoing resistance to the policy in Congress and among more than half the states disrupt implementation of what the White House calls its single most important environmental initiative?
Responding to the Clean Power Plan is just one of the big challenges that electric utilities face. New technologies, sluggish growth in demand and competition from distributed forms of generation, like rooftop solar systems, are causing some of the greatest disruption for the industry since its inception in the late 1800s.
Is the utility as we know it facing extinction? What new business models are likely to take the place of traditional power generation and regulation.
Of course, a presidential election year in the U.S. always suggests the potential for big changes, including in the laws, policies and regulations affecting the ways that we produce and use energy.
What are the candidates saying about U.S. energy security? The shale boom? Climate change?
For someone like me who has reported on energy for more than 30 years, the prospect for change has never been greater!