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Competition between coal and natural gas affects power markets

In 2016, natural gas provided 34% of total electricity generation, surpassing coal to become the leading generation source. Natural gas first exceeded coal as the most common electricity fuel on a monthly basis in April 2015 and on an annual basis in 2016. The increase in natural gas generation since 2005 is primarily a result of the continued cost competitiveness of natural gas relative to coal.

Image credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Natural gas-fired capacity is widely distributed across the United States. Every state except Vermont has at least one natural gas plant. In the past 15 years, nearly 228 gigawatts (GW) of capacity fueled by natural gas was added, far exceeding retirements of 54 GW. Over that same period, 20 GW of coal-fired capacity was added, while more than 53 GW was retired.

Regionally, coal remains the dominant fuel for electricity generation in the Midwest, although its share has decreased over the past several years. In the Northeast, electricity generation with natural gas has exceeded coal-fired generation since February 2011. In the South, monthly natural gas generation surpassed that of coal in every month since January 2015. In the West, electricity generated by coal and natural gas has remained in close competition over the past decade; however, natural gas exceeded coal in the power sector for 11 months during 2016.

Image credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

The competition of coal and natural gas for electricity generation plays an important role in setting wholesale electricity prices. The changing use of natural gas and coal in electricity generation also has implications for the production, transport, and storage of coal and natural gas.

To better examine coal and natural gas competitiveness in the power market, the 2017 EIA Energy Conference will include a session on coal-natural gas competition. The topic will be explored from three perspectives: technology for coal to natural gas conversions, impact on the electric system dispatch order, and the effect of lower coal demand on the railroad industry. The panel will be moderated by Stan Kaplan, director of EIA’s Office of Electricity, Renewables, and Uranium Statistics. Speakers on this panel include

  • Robert DiDona, Energy Ventures Analysis, Inc.
  • Robin Bedilion, Electric Power Research Institute
  • Jamie Heller, Hellerworx, Inc.

Source: EIA

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