Increased Usage of Natural Gas for Power Generation in the USA – Blessing or Curse

Natural gas-fired electricity generation was always second to coal-fired power plants in the USA in terms of the megawatts generated from the respective fuel. In the year 2010, 42% electricity was generated by coal mix and 25% from natural gas. But last year the scenario changed and in April 2015 Natural gas-fired generation surpassed coal generation. This year Natural gas-fired electricity generation is expected to reach a record level. It is estimated to provide an average of 3.8 million megawatt-hours per day in 2016, 4% higher than that in the year 2015. Thus it will provide 34% of the United States’s electricity requirement this year. Coal’s share is expected to be 30%, nuclear 19%, and renewables 15%. Further gas-fired generation is expected to reach record peaks in this summer during the months of July and August when demand for air conditioning increases electricity demand across the country.

“I subscribe to the view that natural gas is a very helpful bridge fuel,” said John Holdren, (while supporting natural gas usage) the president’s chief science advisor, at the EIA conference. “Natural gas technology can be done well or it can be done badly.”

The gas production has increased due to the new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing, advanced drilling of a well. This has reflected in a drastic reduction in the natural gas prices. With this, the shift was inevitable to come. Also, it’s a well known proved fact that per million British thermal units (BTU) energy produced, coal emits almost double the amount of CO2 than that of natural gas. Natural gas is primarily methane (CH4), which has higher energy content relative to other natural fuels. Environmentalists and climate change related policymakers endorsed the transition to natural gas. It is also called as a ‘bridge fuel’, not completely nonpolluting but far better than coal for electricity generation.

The year 2015 was very bad for coal companies in the USA. Many of them have filed for bankruptcy. This was post-Paris agreement and the strict rules issued by Obama government. This intern helped in the usage of natural gas for electricity generation and the reduced prices of gas further helped in rising of its use for power generation.

Recent research shows leaks in various spots along natural gas pipelines release sufficient methane gas – a gas that causes warming and is a contributor to greenhouse gas emission. Environmental policy experts are more worried about smaller leaks of methane gas that are likely to go undetected but can cause heavy damage in terms climate change.

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