coal

In 2017 natural gas fired power plants generated 32 % of the electricity in the United States. Coal fired power plants delivered about 30 % of all power, while nuclear delivered about 20 %. Nearly 20 % came from renewable energy sources, out of which 47 % came from hydro power plants and about 37 % came from wind turbines.

Eight years earlier, 2009, when the shale-gas revolution had started to take off, coal was the number one source, 44 % of all electric generation. Natural gas represented 23 % of the generation and nuclear was at 20 %. Renewable generation, basically hydro and wind, produced 10.5 % of the electric power. (EIA data).

Natural gas has replaced coal as the primary source of power generation. Nuclear is basically unchanged at 20 %, while renewables with the growth of wind and solar generation, has doubled and represents about the same proportion of the power generation as nuclear.

In an industry that traditionally changes slow it is a big shift that has happened fast.



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In the electric industry, baseload refers to the minimum level demand over 24 hours. The baseload is generally about 30 – 40 % of the peak load. Traditionally the baseload has been served by low cost power generators, operating steadily and continuously.

Coal fired power plants, nuclear, and (depending on geography) hydro have been the backbone of baseload generation. Operating in “baseload mode” is more or less a prerequisite for nuclear and coal-fired power plants. That is because of their high fixed costs and need to run due to long start-up times and limited ability for load-following.

This paradigm has started to change.

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The U.S. electric industry is undergoing an unprecedented transformation, in terms of magnitude and speed, from a dominance of coal to more natural gas, wind and solar.

Natural gas fired combined cycle generation has among the lowest levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). Between 2006 and 2014 natural gas prices fell by 34 %. Meanwhile the average retail electricity price rose by 17%, which is about the same rate as consumer price index during this period. Only one state, Texas, saw a significant decrease, 13 %, in retail electricity prices.

It triggers the question: Do lower energy costs also mean lower electricity prices for the consumers? The question is straightforward. The answer is more complicated. It is “Yes and No”. Let’s elaborate by looking at available data for the last 10 years.

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The German Energiewende is the largest undertaking in the world to transition to renewable energy. Rightfully it is getting a lot of attention.  There already many lessons to be learnt of what to do and also some of what not to do.

Smaller in magnitude but also well worth paying attention to are two American versions of Energiewende. One is a state, Hawaii, and the other is a city, Fort Collins, Colorado.



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Germany is by many seen as a leader in renewable energy development. Of the 615 TWh (1 TWh = 1 billion kWh)) produced in 2011 7.5 % was produced by wind and 3.1 % by solar (almost all is photovoltaic, PV). All renewable energy sources added up to 19.9 %. In 2012 the portion of renewable energy produced had grown to 22 %. On October 3 this year (2013) at noon wind and PV reached a record peak of 59.1 %.

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