The new shale revolution has brought with it an abundance of natural gas at cheap prices. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal and natural gas power plants are cheaper and quicker to build than coal-fired ones. The EIA estimates that by the year 2040 natural gas will overtake coal as the number one source for electricity generation in the United States.
It was only a few years ago when experts were predicting an end to natural gas in America. This was before the great shale revolution that untapped trillions of cubic feet of unconventional resources which could power America for the next hundred years and beyond. Natural gas emits a much lower rate of both carbon and sulfur dioxide than does traditional coal.
The EIA estimates that natural gas could even surpass coal as the number one source of energy in America by the year 2037. That’s an amazing prediction when just 15 years ago coal supplied more than 52 percent of all of America’s electrical power compared to just 16 percent for natural gas.
The EIA reports that total electricity consumption for both on-site generators and electric power producers will grow from 3826 billion kWh in 2012 to 4954 billion kWh by 2040. Average annual rate of growth is estimated at 0.9 percent. The availability of low-priced natural gas and new regulations will continue to drive coal use down.
In fact, new natural-gas fired power plants will account for 73 percent of all capacity additions leading up to the year 2040. Compare that with 24 percent for renewable sources, 3 percent for nuclear energy, and just 1 percent for coal. While nuclear and renewable energy-fired plants remain more attractive from an environmental standpoint, the high cost of building such plants still makes natural gas the energy source of choice.
Natural gas a better choice for the environment
Natural gas is not just more abundant and affordable, the EPA has even said that because of the increased use of natural gas (due to unconventional resources), carbon emissions in the United States are now at their lowest levels in 20 years. Natural gas emits fewer greenhouse gases than do both coal and petroleum.
In fact, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, carbon emissions are not expected to return to 2005 levels until the year 2040, even with the growth in energy use. Natural gas-fired power plants also require less water to drive the turbines than do those powered by coal and petroleum.
Natural gas as a transportation mode
Natural gas is even expected to play an important role in reducing greenhouse emissions in the transportation sector. Already large bus fleets like the one in Los Angeles are run on natural gas. The cost of fueling the buses is cheaper and pollution levels are reduced. The use of natural gas in large transportation vehicles will play a key role in the coming future while the transition of smaller vehicles like cars is still a ways off due to the daunting task of retooling public infrastructure.
Natural gas already surpassing coal in generation mix
According to PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission organization (RTO) responsible for moving electricity over most of the Mid-Atlantic and parts of the Midwest, natural gas will replace coal as its primary fuel source as early as May 2015.
“We’re facing a big change from the normal pace at which the grid evolved. Looking back 80 years, typically it has taken a decade for a new fuel to emerge as a major source of generation,” says PJM Interconnection President and CEO Terry Boston. “This myopic focus on one fuel source per decade has resulted in something very important for reliability—a diverse mix of fuels in PJM. Next May, for the first time ever, we will see natural gas surpass coal in our fuel mix.”
Natural Gas Intelligence currently reports that the mix is 40 percent coal compared to 30 percent gas. Those generation mixes are changing fast as natural gas continues to gain popularity. The switch has come not just from the affordability of natural gas but new federal regulations as well.
…original content by PPE