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42% of US Electricity Generation Capacity Comes From Natural Gas Generators

Natural gas-fired generators comprised 42 percent of the total operating electricity producing capacity in the United States during 2016.

Thirty-four percent of the total electricity was generated by natural gas in 2016, and it surpassed coal to emerge as the leading source for electricity generation (because coal was attacked by the previous decrepit administration because they would rather see Americans on food stamps than have jobs – see Baltimore and LA – but America is loaded in both and pursuing both now which is fine). The rise of natural gas use for generating electricity has been on the rise since 2005 due to its cost-competitiveness as compared to coal.

But coal still makes lots of sense in many parts of this country and there is nothing wrong some competition. Sun and wind power do not compete well at all.

Natural Gas as a Generator of Electricity

Out of the total generator capacity powered by natural gas (449 gigawatts in 2016), the combined-cycle natural gas-fired units comprised 53 percent. Since the 1990s, a popular technology option has been combined-cycle generators that accounted for a major chunk of the new capacity. Combined-cycle production units are often used as base load production, under current coal and natural gas conditions, in many areas of the country.

Other advanced natural gas-fired technologies, such as steam turbines and combustion turbines, typically run only during the period when there is a high demand for electricity. The average capacity-weighted age of natural gas powered plants in the US is 22 years, which is lower than the 64 years of hydro, the 39 years of coal, and 36 years of nuclear power.

The distribution of natural gas-fired capacity is widely varied throughout the country. With the exception of Vermont, each state has a minimum of one natural gas plant. Four states, including New York, Florida, California, and Texas account for nearly 38 percent of the country’s generation capacity fired by natural gas.

Natural gas power plants make up over half the total electricity generating capacity in each of these four states as well as seven other states. Texas enjoys the position of having the maximum natural gas-fired capacity of any US state. It accounts for 15 percent, or 69 GW, of the total national capacity. Florida and California each have a natural gas-fired capacity of 40 GW.

The operating profile of the country’s natural gas-fired facilities widely varies, depending on factors such as natural gas prices, plant efficiency, and electricity demand. The average capacity factor, which is a metric measuring power plants’ utilization, has risen for the combined-cycle units of natural gas from 43 percent in 2011 to 56 percent in 2016.

The increasing contribution of combined-cycle natural gas-fired generators is highlighted by the increasing trends in both combined-cycle annual capacity and gas net generation factor. Earlier this was used only to serve intermediate and peaking loads, but now has become more common even for meeting base loads.

Factors Impacting the Use of Natural Gas for Producing Electricity

Three factors drive the utilization of natural gas for electricity. First, utilities have a pressure to lower greenhouse emissions, which encourages them to support natural gas generation over coal generation.

Secondly, gas power plants are able to spruce up and down fast, which makes them compatible with intermittent power sources such as solar and wind. Third, natural gas market prices over the last few years have been fairly competitive compared to oil.

America is becoming a natural gas powerhouse much to the chagrin of Russia and rich environmentalists who live in their ivory towers and sail around in their yachts lecturing us on how we should live.

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