REUTERS/Tom BrennerPresident Joe Biden’s first executive actions after his inauguration on Thursday to move quickly to tackle climate change have raised questions over the ability of administrations to transform the U.S. energy system.
The historical record, however, shows administrations leave little imprint at macro-level on the energy system, implying both the hopes and expectations of supporters, and the anxieties of opponents, are probably exaggerated.
The energy system – everything from coal mines and gas wells to oil refineries, generating stations, pipelines, power lines, highways, vehicles and customer appliances – consists of trillions of dollars of very long-lived assets.
Between 1973 and 2019, the share of total primary energy consumption supplied by fossil fuels declined from 92% to 80%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (“Monthly energy review”, EIA, Dec. 23).
System inertia has produced some surprising results; presidents do not always get the system changes for which they planned.
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