The US Energy Information Administration said on April 18 that it expects that electricity generation fueled by natural gas this summer (June, July, and August) will be lower than last summer, but it will continue to exceed that of any other fuel, including coal-fired generation, for the third summer in a row.
The projected share of total US generation for natural gas is expected to average 34%, which is down from 37% last summer but still exceeds coal’s generation share of 32%, the EIA said in its April 2017 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) posted on its website.
Based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the EIA said it estimates that average US population-weighted cooling degree days in the summer of 2016 reached the highest level on record. NOAA projections for this summer indicate cooling degree-days will be 11% lower than last year. These milder expected temperatures lead to forecast U.S. summer electricity generation of 1.16 billion megawatthours, which would be 2.4% lower than generation last summer.
Generation fueled by natural gas typically peaks in the summer when power plant operators use natural gas-fired combustion turbines during the hottest part of the day to meet electricity demand for air conditioning, the EIA said. Natural gas first exceeded coal as the nation’s primary electricity fuel on a monthly basis in April 2015 and on an annual basis in 2016. During the summer of 2016, at a time when natural gas prices were relatively low, 37% of US electricity generation came from natural gas and 33% came from coal.
A decade before that, in summer 2006, 25% came from natural gas and 46% from coal.
The use of natural gas in the power sector is sensitive to natural gas prices. As natural gas prices have risen, the natural gas share of the electricity generation mix has fallen slightly.
Western states have a more diverse mix of energy sources for electricity generation, including access to some of the largest sources of hydropower in the United States, the EIA said. After enduring an exceptional drought, California experienced record levels of precipitation and snowpack this past winter, and hydroelectricity’s share of generation in the West is expected to rise from 20% last summer to 27% this summer. This increase, along with increased solar capacity because of new solar additions, should reduce the need for natural gas-fired generation in the West, where the forecast generation share falls from 34% to 27%.