Natural gas was primary source of US electricity generation in 2016 for first time
Average wholesale electricity prices at major trading hubs across the United States during the first quarter of 2016 were significantly lower than during the same period in 2015, ranging from 24 per cent lower in California to 64 per cent lower in New England, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Monthly wholesale prices for the rest of 2016 were slightly below 2015 prices and generally averaged between $20 and $45 per megawatthour (MWh).
The primary driver of the low wholesale electricity prices was the sustained low cost of natural gas, which is the fuel that often determines the marginal generation cost in most power markets.
The low cost of natural gas also encouraged increased use of the fuel for US power generation in 2016.
The cost of natural gas delivered to power generators averaged $2.78 per million British thermal unit (Btu) during the first 10 months of 2016 (the latest data available), which was 17 per cent lower than the average price during the same period in 2015.
Milder winter weather in early 2016 also helped keep power prices lower than during the winter of 2014–15 when wholesale prices in the Northeast peaked in response to cold temperatures and constraints on getting fuel into the region.
The average wholesale electricity price in ISO New England in Feb. 2016 averaged $34/MWh, significantly lower than the $138/MWh average during Feb. 2015.
Wholesale power prices began slowly increasing in Dec. as colder winter weather set in, which led to increasing natural gas prices.
In addition to keeping wholesale power prices relatively stable in 2016, the low cost of natural gas contributed to a shift towards increased natural gas-fired electricity generation, largely at the expense of coal-fired generation.
The amount of electricity generation fueled by natural gas between Jan. and Oct. 2016 was 6 per cent higher than generation during the same period in 2015.
In contrast, coal-fired electricity generation during the first 10 months of 2016 was down 12 per cent compared with the same period in 2015.
Natural gas was the primary source of US electricity generation (when measured on an annual basis) in 2016 for the first time.
Monthly natural gas-fired electricity generation first exceeded coal-fired generation as the primary source of electricity in April 2015.
Natural gas was the leading source of electricity for nearly every month of 2016, accounting for an estimated 34 per cent of total annual utility-scale power generation, compared with a 30 per cent share for coal-fired generation.
Electricity generating facilities were scheduled to add about 24 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale capacity in 2016, more than 90 per cent of which were natural gas, solar, and wind additions.
Coal units accounted for most retirements during 2016, with more than 7 GW of coal-fired capacity retired during the year, equivalent to 2.5 per cent of existing coal capacity in place at the end of 2015.