By - Jim Vess

Natural gas and coal-fired electric generation fell in 2017 while renewable generation rose

Energize Weekly, October 10, 2018

Natural gas-fired electric generation fell a record 7.7 percent in 2017 compared with the previous year, and coal-fired generation was down 2.5 percent, marking the first time in a decade both electricity sources declined—at the same time renewable electricity hit a record, according to the federal Energy Information Association (EIA).

Total U.S. net electricity generation fell 1.5 percent in 2017, reflecting lower electricity demand, the EIA said in its Electric Power Monthly.

Natural gas remained the most-used fuel for electricity generation for the third consecutive year. Still, natural gas-fired electricity generation dropped 105,443 gigawatt-hours (GWh), and coal-fired electricity was down 31,248 GWh. While the drop in coal-fired electricity was smaller than for natural gas, it marked a continued decade-long decline.

More than half the generating capacity retired in 2017 was coal-fired plants—6.3 gigawatts (GW) of a total 11.2 GW. No new coal plants came online in 2017 for the first time in at least a decade.

There were about 4 GW of gas-fired capacity, mainly steam turbine units, retired in 2017. At the same time, 9.3 GW of new natural gas generation was added, largely combined-cycle units—increasing natural gas’s position as the biggest type of generating capacity. Natural gas accounted for nearly 32 percent of all electricity generation in 2017.

Meanwhile, electricity generation from wind, solar and hydropower all advanced. Wind accounted for 6.3 percent of the total net generation, and solar was 1.3 percent, records for both sources.

Hydro-generated electricity rose to 7.5 percent “in part as a result of record precipitation in California,” the EIA said.

EIA said it “expects hydro to continue to exceed wind in 2018, but wind is projected to become the predominant renewable electricity generation source in 2019.”

Few new hydro plants are expected to come online in the next two years, so hydro generation will depend on precipitation levels. Installation of additional wind-generating capacity is projected to continue in 2018 and 2019 at a pace similar to the last few years with a projected 8.3 GW in 2018 and 8 GW in 2019.

In 2017, about 6.3 GW of wind turbines and 4.7 GW of utility-scale photovoltaic arrays were installed. “For each technology, about a third of the year’s capacity additions came online in the last month of the year; these December additions had little effect on 2017 annual generation values,” the EIA said.

Another 3.5 GW of small-scale solar capacity came online in 2017, increasing total small-scale solar capacity to 16.2 GW.

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