Pointing out the chronic underprediction of clean energy growth rates has become something of a sport in analyst circles.
The International Energy Agency and Energy Information Agency take most of the heat from critics. Throughout the last decade, the two influential organizations have faced growing criticism for their conservative projections on wind andsolargrowth.
Skip Laitner, a renowned energy-efficiency expert, is the latest to weigh in. Turns out, efficiency is also wildly underestimated.
After reviewing dozens of scenarios for growth in global primary energy consumption and comparing them to actual consumption, Laitner found a widening gap between past assumptions and current reality.
"With a long, ongoing review, I've concluded that energy models mostly get it wrong. Both historically and today," wrote Laitner on his LinkedIn page.
"It turns out that energy efficiency is a much bigger productivity resource than is generally understood. And it is the 'ace in the hole' -- as a meaningful climate solution, and also as a catalyst for a more robust and sustainable economy. But we need smarter policies and more productive investments to make it happen."
Laitner didn't create the graphic in order to shame other forecasters. But his years of following projections made him aware that they were off -- by a lot.
"The infograph was not intended to 'fault' the EIA or other forecasts; rather, the critical insight is that we have tended to underestimate the large-scale impact and opportunity of energy efficiency and/or energy productivity. As we publish those 'supply-side' projections, we tend to lock out the very large demand-side opportunities," he wrote.
Laitner has published other surprising data on efficiency. In a 2013 analysis, he concluded that energy efficiency has provided three times more economic services than new energy production since the 1970s. In other words, the U.S. economy's productivity is actually more closely tied to efficiency improvements than new resource extraction.
There's a growing class of analysis devoted to pointing out the shortcomings of "conventional" analysis from IEA and EIA.
For example, a 2015 report from Meister Consultants Group showed that Greenpeace's "energy revolution" scenario in 2006 actually came closest to predicting the surge in wind and solar around the world.
MJ Shiao, head of Americas research at GTM, once called EIA's accounting of solar "irresponsibly wrong" because of its underreporting of third-party-owned distributed projects. "This data potentially misleads solar entrepreneurs and corporates considering how to build, maintain, manage and otherwise invest in gigawatts of new and existing distributed solar," he wrote.
When it comes to projections, both EIA and IEA say their outlooks (which are still highly anticipated) assume growth rates under a business-as-usual scenario. But critics say technologies and project economics are changing far too quickly, making such scenarios obsolete as soon as they're published -- and fooling policymakers about the rate of change underway in the energy sector.