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Head of the USEA says energy transition is necessary but will take time at UH Law Center’s 6th Annual North American EENR Conference

UHLC alumna Nikita Westberg

USEA Acting Executive Director Sheila Hollis delivers the keynote during the UH Law Center’s 6th Annual North American Environment, Energy, & Natural Resources Conference.

June 23, 2022––The global importance of addressing climate change and shift toward carbon neutrality are “never going to change,” said Sheila Hollis, Acting Executive Director of the United States Energy Association. But it’s “not an overnight job” either.

Hollis gave a multifaceted presentation on the state of energy around the globe as the keynote speaker at the UH Law Center’s 6th Annual North American Environment, Energy, & Natural Resources Conference.

Energy may be “much brighter and sunnier,” and greener by 2030, but it could be closer to 2050, Hollis estimated.

“It all takes time, money, and commitment” to close plants, improve existing plants, and build the new infrastructure necessary to serve renewables and the like, she said. 

In her keynote address, Hollis discussed everything from global energy consumption and international gas prices to global coal trade and lithium reserves.

The virtual conference covered “Staying Balanced in the Pivot: Legal Challenges of the Carbon Transition.” The UH Law Center event was co-sponsored by Blank Rome LLP, the University of Calgary Law School, and the University of Houston’s Center for Global Law and Policy for the Americas.

2021 was the “fastest year-on-year growth since the 1970s” for renewable electricity generation, according to Hollis, with China “so far out in front” of other countries, accounting for almost half of the global increase in renewable electricity.

In the U.S., electricity generation in 2021 was a mix of natural gas (37%), coal (23%), renewables (21%), and nuclear (19%), according to data presented by Hollis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Energy generation from renewables is projected to increase to 44% of total energy production by 2050, according to the EIA data, while natural gas and nuclear energy production are estimated to dip only slightly, to 34% and 12% of U.S. energy generation, respectively.

“No matter how much we want to go to a low carbon future, it’s difficult to initiate new nuclear plants…and to keep existing ones licensed and going,” Hollis said.

Energy is an incredibly complex issue, as Hollis’ presentation showed, with many moving parts including production, generation, and consumption, not to mention the political and cultural climates that can each play a role in a project’s success or failure. 

“Everything is dependent on [energy], whether there’s a war or a lockdown on certain types of energy,” Hollis said. “This three-dimensional chess game is being played all over the world as to who gets the energy, and where does it come from.”

For example, Hollis presented “a shifting map of the world” concerning global coal trade and “who’s in control where that will determine how much coal will go out into the world.”

The map “is so alive,” she said. “You can look at it in another week, and there can be a significant shift in the way things are moving and happening.” 

“One thing we know is that the enhanced focus on climate change is never going to change,” Hollis said. At the same time, “high dependence on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future” is simply a reality.

Still, “we’ll be moving along to try to do carbon capture” and reach carbon neutrality, Hollis said.

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