The use of natural gas and solar energy to create electricity for the U.S. grid both jumped considerably in October compared to the same month a year ago, the federal Energy Information Administration reported this week.
The monthly report also showed significant drops in the coal, nuclear and wind portions of the American utility-scale generation mix, according to the EIA. Nuclear’s drop was pinned to several planned maintenance outages, while coal’s fall is part of the industry’s shift toward cleaner-emitting power sources.
All in all, natural gas-fired generation is rising to a historic lead in U.S. power generation. Utility-scale gas-fired units accounted for more than 124 million MWh, or 38.1 percent of the overall portfolio.
Solar power, starting from a much smaller position, moved up more than 8 percent to 5.3 million MWh. The solar thermal and photovoltaic output rises to more than 7.3 million MWh total when smaller facilities are included in the report.
Coal, meanwhile, continues its recent descent as utilities either ramp down older, dirtier units or retire them altogether. Coal-fired generation totaled nearly 87.5 million MWh, which is 26.9 percent of the U.S. portfolio and a 2.6 percent drop from October 2017, according to the EIA.
Nuclear power generated 59.4 million MWh this past October, still close to 18 percent of the U.S. mix but a 10 percent fall from the 66 million MWh of the same period one year earlier.
Hydroelectric facilities are six percent of the recent U.S. mix, or 18.78 million MWh and 3 percent higher than a year ago. Utility-scale wind energy dropped more than 16 percent to less than 22 million MWh.
Wind is still 8 percent of the U.S. generation mix, placing it behind gas, coal and nuclear but ahead of hydro and solar, according to EIA’s latest monthly data.
Overall, the U.S. power generation sector consumed an average 918 million cubic feet of natural gas in October, a 16 percent hike from 2017. Electricity produced from gas turbines has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, the EIA report shows.
(Rod Walton is content manager for the PowerGen International conference and the Power Engineering website. He can be reached at 918-831-9177 and [email protected]).