Combined Cycle, Gas, New Projects

The Natural Gas Revolution is ‘Real’

America is flush with natural gas.
Advancements in technology have unlocked vast natural gas reserves that have long been trapped in thin, nonporous rock known as shale. The breakthroughs caused U.S. gas supplies to skyrocket and gas prices to plummet, encouraging the use of natural gas for power generation.
After years of robust gas production, a rapid shift to more flexible dispatchable power and a steady rise in new gas-fired projects, a new king of power generation is about to be crowned.
It wasn’t that long ago when coal accounted for more than half of the nation’s electricity supplies (between 2000 and 2008). The gap began to close in 2009 as gas prices plunged amid a surge in gas production from U.S. shale formations. This year, the amount of power produced with natural gas is expected to surpass generation fueled with coal, according to a recent report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). If the agency’s projection is realized, it would be the first time power produced from natural gas exceeded coal-fired power production on an annual basis. The report projects natural gas will fuel 33.4 percent of the country’s power generation in 2016 compared with coal’s 32 percent.
In an interview with CNBC in February, U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the North American natural gas market is thriving. “We are now perhaps at the 10-year mark of what has been a real natural gas revolution in this country,” Moniz said. “Gas (is) now the biggest supplier, biggest fuel for electricity – overtaking coal.”
Last year, power supplies from coal and natural gas were virtually even, with coal accounting for 33.2 percent of the generation pie and gas comprising 32.7 percent. But during the last six months of 2015, natural gas beat coal, accounting for 34.8 percent of U.S. power generation versus 32 percent for coal.  
Although natural gas prices are projected to rise in 2016 and 2017, prices will remain between $2 and $4 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) during that period, low enough to incentivize the continued construction and modernization of gas-fired power plants in the U.S. EIA expects natural gas prices to average $2.65 per MMBtu in 2016 and $3.22 per MMBtu in 2017.
According to EIA, the power sector, on average, is the largest consumer of natural gas in the U.S., using more than the industrial sector and each of the buildings sectors (residential and commercial). Although consumption of natural gas in the power sector peaks during the summer, the industry’s natural gas consumption during the winter has been rising as more generation switches to gas and more households rely on electricity as a main heating source.
By 2040, renewable power is expected to account for 18 percent of all generation, up from 13 percent in 2013. This means gas-fired plants must be faster and more flexible to accommodate the growing amount of intermittent generation.
For the world’s leading gas turbine manufacturers, the increased demand for fast, flexible and highly efficient gas turbines has led to better designs and bigger sales.
For the full story, look for the April issue of Power Engineering magazine.