U.S. Becoming Over-Dependent on Natural Gas for Energy

Edwardsport Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC)

Edwardsport Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC). Credit: Duke Energy/Flickr

The United States is reportedly becoming over-dependent on natural gas for the production of electricity. The growing dependence exposes risks for consumers of natural gas and electricity including sudden price spikes, and the loss of reliability.

Parts of the country (California, Florida, and New England) that depend on natural gas for more than 50% of their electricity are reportedly facing warnings of potential power shortages. This could be attributed to the base-load coal and nuclear plants that have shut down. Also, over-estimating the contribution from renewable resources may have an impact on the capacity.

Solar and wind power combined, account for around 7% of the electricity supply nationally. Since 1995, around 80% of all generating capacity that is built in the U.S. has been supported by gas. In the next decade, around 100,000 megawatts of additional gas-fired capacity is expected to be added. In contrast, less than 10,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity and new coal would be added by 2020. A resilient system has a requisite of a diverse mix, and with the current trends, the diversity may be at a serious risk.

Rick Perry, the Energy Secretary has proposed a way to deal with this issue by asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to keep the nuclear and coal plants open. He said that the effect of power shortages could be limited. The long-term fundamentals reportedly support the continued reliance on, and expansion of, nuclear power and coal. The United States would need around 339,000 megawatts of new capacity to meet the new demand, which is around 28% increase in electricity.

The U.S. natural gas resource base, in order to support the level of production would need infrastructure including pipelines, gas storage tanks, and gas processing facilities to be in place to match the growing demand. To bring electric grid into the 21st century, the production of large quantities of electricity safely and reliably would be needed.

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