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Experts are Hilariously Bad at Forecasting Solar Installations

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For the latest data on the world’s energy markets, organizations such as the IEA (International Energy Agency) and the EIA (Energy Information Administration) are crucial sources. Every year, investors and entire industries rely on their reporting on energy supply and demand, as well as their forecasts going forward.

However, these organizations tend to be better at some things than others. For example, in terms of summing up past and current data on what is going on in the world, they generally do a pretty good job. We referenced their numbers when we looked at the changing anatomy of U.S. oil imports, or when showing the decline in coal use over recent years.

In other situations, such as trying to extrapolate numbers on current trends or predicting the tipping point of technologies, things get a bit dicier. Forecasting the roll-out of solar, in particular, has proved to be a daunting challenge for these organizations over the years.

Global Solar Installations

Before we dive in, we should make one thing clear: it’s notoriously difficult to make these types of predictions, and we do not envy the position of these researchers in any sense.

That being said, as shown in this chart from Auke Hoekstra, forecasts for annual global solar installations by the IEA have been egregiously bad for over a decade.

IEA Solar Predictions for Global Installations

Forecasts from the IEA are pulled from their World Energy Outlook (WEO) reports, which are published each year. Meanwhile, the “PV History” line above is the actual data for photovoltaic (PV) installations each year.

Again, it’s extremely difficult to make such forecasts, and these organizations tend to be conservative with their outlooks. However, it’s pretty evident that they’ve missed a pretty significant trend here.

U.S. Solar Installations

Maybe the U.S. government can do better?

Here’s a look at forecasts by the EIA for annual energy production from solar in the U.S. over many decades, courtesy of Steffen Christensen:

EIA solar forecasts for U.S.

This one’s more interesting. Instead of counting out solar each and every year, the EIA has had changing attitudes towards solar over time.

The projection from 1979 seems to actually be the most accurate – but the ones from 1994-2011 skip any premise of a solar boom entirely. As we get closer to present day, forecasts get more accurate, but are still too conservative (2013, 2015).

Hindsight is 20/20

It’s easy for us to be armchair critics, but it is not fair to rag on these organizations too much.

Here’s the trend they missed that made all the difference:

Costs of Solar Cells

Curious to see how other people have fared in making predictions on technology throughout history?

Here’s a timeline of failed tech predictions that will humble any forecaster.

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Energy

Map: The Countries With the Most Oil Reserves

See the countries with the most oil reserves on this map, which resizes each country based on how many barrels of oil are contained in its borders.

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Map: The Countries With the Most Oil Reserves

There’s little doubt that renewable energy sources will play a strategic role in powering the global economy of the future.

But for now, crude oil is still the undisputed heavyweight champion of the energy world.

In 2018, we consumed more oil than any prior year in history – about 99.3 million barrels per day on a global basis. This number is projected to rise again in 2019 to 100.8 million barrels per day.

The Most Oil Reserves by Country

Given that oil will continue to be dominant in the energy mix for the short and medium term, which countries hold the most oil reserves?

Today’s map comes from HowMuch.net and it uses data from the CIA World Factbook to resize countries based on the amount of oil reserves they hold.

Here’s the data for the top 15 countries below:

RankCountryOil Reserves (Barrels)
#1๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ช Venezuela300.9 billion
#2๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Saudi Arabia266.5 billion
#3๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada169.7 billion
#4๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ท Iran158.4 billion
#5๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ถ Iraq142.5 billion
#6๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ผ Kuwait101.5 billion
#7๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ช United Arab Emirates97.8 billion
#8๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ Russia80.0 billion
#9๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡พ Libya48.4 billion
#10๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Nigeria37.1 billion
#11๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ United States36.5 billion
#12๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ฟ Kazakhstan30.0 billion
#13๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ China25.6 billion
#14๐Ÿ‡ถ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Qatar25.2 billion
#15๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท Brazil12.7 billion

Venezuela tops the list with 300.9 billion barrels of oil in reserve – but even this vast wealth in natural resources has not been enough to save the country from its recent economic and humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia, a country known for its oil dominance, takes the #2 spot with 266.5 billion barrels of oil. Meanwhile, Canada and the U.S. are found at the #3 (169.7 billion bbls) and the #11 (36.5 billion bbls) spots respectively.

The Cost of Production

While having an endowment of billions of barrels of oil within your borders can be a strategic gift from mother nature, it’s worth mentioning that reserves are just one factor in assessing the potential value of this crucial resource.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the production cost of oil is roughly $3.00 per barrel, which makes black gold strategic to produce at almost any possible price.

Other countries are not so lucky:

CountryProduction cost (bbl)Total cost (bbl)*
๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง United Kingdom$17.36$44.33
๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท Brazil$9.45$34.99
๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Nigeria$8.81$28.99
๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ช Venezuela$7.94$27.62
๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Canada$11.56$26.64
๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ U.S. shale$5.85$23.35
๐Ÿ‡ณ๐Ÿ‡ด Norway$4.24$21.31
๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ U.S. non-shale$5.15$20.99
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉ Indonesia$6.87$19.71
๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ Russia$2.98$19.21
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ถ Iraq$2.16$10.57
๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ท Iran$1.94$9.09
๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฆ Saudi Arabia$3.00$8.98
*Total cost (bbl) includes production cost (also shown), capital spending, gross taxes, and admin/transport costs.

Even if a country is blessed with some of the most oil reserves in the world, it may not be able to produce and sell that oil to maximize the potential benefit.

Countries like Canada and Venezuela are hindered by geology – in these places, the majority of oil is extra heavy crude or bitumen (oil sands), and these types of oil are simply more difficult and costly to extract.

In other places, obstacles are are self-imposed. In some countries, like Brazil and the U.S., there are higher taxes on oil production, which raises the total cost per barrel.

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Energy

Mapped: Every Power Plant in the United States

What sources of power are closest to you, and how has this mix changed over the last 10 years? See every power plant in the U.S. on this handy map.

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This Map Shows Every Power Plant in the United States

Every year, the United States generates 4,000 million MWh of electricity from utility-scale sources.

While the majority comes from fossil fuels like natural gas (32.1%) and coal (29.9%), there are also many other minor sources that feed into the grid, ranging from biomass to geothermal.

Do you know where your electricity comes from?

The Big Picture View

Today’s series of maps come from Weber State University, and they use information from the EPA’s eGRID databases to show every utility-scale power plant in the country.

Use the white slider in the middle below to see how things have changed between 2007 and 2016:

The biggest difference between the two maps is the reduced role of coal, which is no longer the most dominant energy source in the country. You can also see many smaller-scale wind and solar dots appear throughout the appropriate regions.

Here’s a similar look at how the energy mix has changed in the United States over the last 70 years:

Energy net generation over time

Up until the 21st century, power almost always came from fossil fuels, nuclear, or hydro sources. More recently, we can see different streams of renewables making a dent in the mix.

Maps by Source

Now let’s look at how these maps look by individual sources to see regional differences more clearly.

Here’s the map only showing fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel power plants in the U.S.

The two most prominent sources are coal (black) and natural gas (orange), and they combine to make up about 60% of total annual net generation.

Now here’s just nuclear on the map:

Nuclear power plants in the U.S.

Nuclear is pretty uncommon on the western half of the country, but on the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest, it is a major power source. All in all, it makes up about 20% of the annual net generation mix.

Finally, a look at renewable energy:

Renewables power plants in the U.S.

Hydro (dark blue), wind (light blue), solar (yellow), biomass (brown), and geothermal (green) all appear here.

Aside from a few massive hydro installations – such as the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State (19 million MWh per year) – most renewable installations are on a smaller scale.

Generally speaking, renewable sources are also more dependent on geography. You can’t put geothermal in an area where there is no thermal energy in the ground, or wind where there is mostly calm weather. For this reason, the dispersion of green sources around the country is also quite interesting to look at.

See all of the above, as well as Hawaii and Alaska, in an interactive map here.

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