Game, Set, Natural Gas

Power plants fired by natural gas have set a new record by producing as much electricity in the U.S. as those run by coal. Looking at data from April, natural gas plants generated the same share of U.S. power as those running on coal – at 32 percent. This is the first time this has happened since the Energy Information Administration began keeping records decades ago.

In a statement, the EIA said in April, “Natural gas prices as delivered to power plants were at a ten-year low.” The agency also sited a decline in coal output for the surge in natural gas usage.

In fact, many in the industry expect natural gas to overcome coal in the near future. At a recent meeting in Dallas, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson predicted that “as additional electricity capacity has to be built out, there’s going to be a substantial increase in natural-gas fired power generation,” both as a replacement for older coal-fired power plants and as a complement to wind power’s fluctuating output.

Higher natural gas power generation has proven good for Mother Nature. Greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and EU dropped 1.7 percent and 1.9 percent respectively.

“The replacement of coal by shale gas is a key factor and what happened in the U.S. could very well happen in China and other countries and could definitely help in reducing CO2 emissions,” said International Energy Agency chief economist Faith Birol.

The U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any other country since 2006, falling 7.7 percent overall. That is equal to taking 84 million passenger vehicles off the road and is attributed mostly to using less coal for power generation.