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Gas-fired and carbon free resources fueled close to 80 percent of U.S. power first half 2020

Gila River power plant courtesy Salt River Project, Tucson Electric Power.

Natural gas-fired generation is moving upward to about 40 percent of U.S. electricity mix this year, according to new data from the federal Energy Information Administration.

The EIA’s latest report shows that natural gas-fired generation in the lower 48 states increased nearly 55,000 GWh in the first six months of 2020, a nine percent jump over last year. This rise came despite an overall five percent decline in total generation, partially due to lower demand during the COVID-19 era.

Coal-fired generation absorbed most of the drop in load, showing a 138,000 GWh decline in output. This is 30 percent lower than the same January-June period of 2019, according to the EIA.

This comes as newer gas-fired power and peaker plants are more efficient and also because natural gas is historically cheap. The monthly Henry Hub natural gas spot price fell to $1.81 per million British thermal units through the first six half of 2020, nearly a dollar below the comparable 2019 price.

The replacement of coal-fired capacity with gas-fired generation was most prominent in the PJM Interconnection and MISO (Midcontinent Independent System Operator. Together, these two ISOs account for more than a third of the lower 48 states’ electric power generation.

Nuclear power generation, meanwhile fell about four percent year over year in total generation output to almost 400,000 GWh. Combined renewables of hydro, wind and solar rose five percent to more than 360,000 GWh for January through June.

Roughly estimated, natural gas accounted for at least 39 percent of the continental U.S. generation output so far in 2020. Nuclear produced 22 percent, renewables 19 percent and coal about 17 percent.

Combining renewables with nuclear shows that more than 40 percent of the U.S. lower 48 generation output was carbon free in the first half of the year, according to the EIA.

Natural gas-fired generation, meanwhile, is facing increased competition from solar and wind capacity. Since 2018, about 23,200 MW of new net solar and wind capacity has been added. 

Gas-fired generation also emits only about half of the carbon dioxide of coal-fired plants.