The recent oil price rally has taken a break due to the persistence of recessionary low demand. While lower prices may finally translate into lower crude oil and natural gas output in July 2009 than in 2008, US demand numbers show little sign of recovery. This reality makes it tough for renewable energy to compete currently, but is a relief to struggling consumers.
Oil Output Slides Slower than Demand
Oil demand is down more than 5% in 2009 thus far and shows few signs of change. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) Petroleum Weekly Report shows demand of most oil-based fuels nosediving. Gasoline, distillates (mostly diesel), and propane demand fell 3.2%, 24%, and a whopping 39%, respectively. As a tempering force to supply gains, US crude output slid 1.8% to 5.163 Mbd last week, just .8% higher than in 2008. Much further reduction in production could bring US stockpiles back into the average range and threaten to lift prices above $70 per barrel again. But more economic stability is necessary to raise prices much further.
Natural Gas Storage Finally Slows its Growth
It took sub-$4 per MMBtu and a heat wave across the South to finally keep natural gas inventories from its above average growth. Output may fall below 2008 levels in July and send prices back above $4. But again, some economic recovery is important for prices to climb significantly above $4.50 per MMBtu. Storage remains more than 20% above average, and is poised to hit new record levels by October. Natural gas will remain a strong substitute for coal this summer even though coal prices are half their 2008 average.
Low Energy Demand Means Slow Renewables Growth
It’s hard to justify strong demand for new renewable energy when overall energy demand remains significantly below 2008 levels. But if solar and wind producers can continue to lower costs and economic recovery picks up in the second half of 2009, we may be on the cusp of another wave of strong expansion.
Bottom line: The recession maintains its grip on fuel prices midway through 2009. Whether demand recovery, output decreases, or changes in the exchange value of the dollar will change that reality in the months ahead is difficult to know. I’ll keep you posted on these trends and their influence on greenhouse gas emissions in the weeks ahead.
Onwards in the Sustainable Energy Transition-