Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Amazingly Fast Substitution of Natural Gas for Coal In Electricity Generation

I've been doing this stuff pretty much my entire adult life and can play the 3D chaess game that is energy with some degree of mastery. What we've seen in the electrical utilities over the last six months is unique.

Mental signposts: the switch from biomass to coal supremecy at the start of the Industrial revolution took 75 years and the rise of oil took about 100 years to move coal into second place.
As I said, what we're seeing is unique.

From the U.S. Energy Information Administration, May 8:

U.S. Electricity Consumption

Heating degree-days nationwide during the first quarter of 2012 were at the lowest level since record keeping began in 1895. Winter temperatures were particularly mild in the South, where a majority of homes use electric heat pumps. The mild weather contributed to an 11-percent decline in U.S. residential electricity sales compared with the same period last year. For the summer months, EIA expects U.S. cooling degree-days to average 16 percent lower than last summer. Overall, residential electricity sales fall about 4 percent during 2012. EIA expects total consumption of electricity to decline by 0.8 percent during 2012 and then grow by 1.9 percent in 2013.

U.S. Electricity Generation

Natural-gas-fired generation continues to expand its share of total generation at the expense of coal-fired generation. During the first quarter of 2012, natural gas accounted for 28.7 percent of total generation compared with 20.7 percent during the same quarter last year. In contrast, coal’s share of total generation declined from 44.6 percent to 36.0 percent over the same period. Much of the recent increase in natural gas generation has stemmed from increased utilization of combined cycle capacity, which typically does not exhibit as much seasonal fluctuation as other types of natural gas plants used primarily for peaking generation. This trend in capacity utilization, along with summer weather that is projected to be milder than last year, should dampen year-over-year growth in natural gas generation during the third quarter (U.S. Electricity Generation Chart).

U.S. Electricity Retail Prices

EIA forecasts average U.S. residential electricity prices to rise by 0.6 percent in 2012, and then fall by 2.1 percent in 2013 (U.S. Residential Electricity Prices Chart). The rising costs of transmitting and distributing electricity to retail customers offset some of the declining fuel costs....

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