A Guest Post by Islandboy
The EIA released the latest edition of their Electric Power Monthly on December 26th, with data for October 2018. The table above shows the percentage contribution of the main fuel sources to two decimal places for the last two months and the year to date.
In October, as usual for this time of the year, the absolute amount of electricity generated continued to decline with the mid summer demand for air conditioning falling away further. Coal and Natural Gas between them, fueled 64.98% of US electricity generation in October, with the contributions from most other major sources edging up slightly. The contribution from Natural Gas was down at 38.11%, from 40.01% in September, with the amount generated falling from 142,745 GWh to 124,027 GWh. Generation fueled by coal declined from 96,743 Gwh to 87,452 GWh resulting in the percentage contribution falling from 27.12% to 26.87%. The amount of electricity generated by Nuclear plants decreased from 64,725 GWh to 59,397 GWh with the resulting contribution actually rising very slightly from 18.14% to 18.25% in October. The amount generated by conventional hydroelectric increased from 18,663 GWh in September to 18,779 GWh in October with resulting contribution increasing to 5.77% as opposed to 5.23% in September. The amount generated by wind increased from 16,022 GWh to 19,507 GWh with the resulting contribution rising from 4.49% to 5.99% in September. The estimated total solar output fell from 9,153 GWh to 7,625 GWh with the resulting contribution falling from 2.57% to 2.34%. The contribution of zero carbon or carbon neutral sources rose from 32.01% in September to 34.10% in October.
The graph below shows the absolute production from the various sources as well as the total amount generated (right axis).
The chart below shows the total monthly generation at utility scale facilities by year versus the contribution from solar. The left hand scale is for the total generation, while the right hand scale is for solar output and has been deliberately set to exaggerate the solar output as a means of assessing it’s potential to make a meaningful contribution to the midsummer peak. In October 2018 the output from solar at 7,625 GWh, was 3 times what it was four years ago in October 2014.
The chart below shows the total monthly generation at utility scale facilities by year versus the combined contribution from wind and solar. The left hand scale is for the total generation, while the right hand scale is for combined wind and solar output and has been deliberately set to exaggerate the combined output of solar ans wind as a means of assessing the potential of the combination to make a meaningful contribution to the year round total. The chart reveals somewhat sinister implications for generators fueled by fossil fuels going forward. The combined contribution of wind and solar has varied between 7% and almost 12% in 2018. If the combination were to be multiplied by a factor of ten the contribution would be between 70% and almost 120%.
These two source do not have to grow by a factor of ten between them before they start have adverse effects on the viability of generators using fossil fuels. Both sources are amongst the lowest cost sources of electricity in many US markets and costs are projected to continue to decline. This means that the markets are increasingly likely to buy electricity from wind or solar when available. The falling costs of battery storage are increasing the likelihood that markets will be able to store low cost electricity from renewable sources for use at times when they would normally have had to resort to higher priced sources.
Solar production has been doubling roughly every two years so, at that rate solar would generate more that 30% of US electricity in less than eight years. Growth in Wind output has slowed considerably in recent years so, it may take another eight years for wind to double it’s contribution from roughly 7% to 14%. The net result will be that, the combination of wind and solar could well be contributing upwards of 45% of US electricity by 2026, up from 8.25% in 2017. Even if these projections prove optimistic, it is likely that the contribution from wind and solar will grow at the detriment of other sources. In other words, wind and solar are setting up to take significant market share away from other sources.
The chart below shows the percentage contributions of the various sources to monthly capacity additions for 2018. In October Natural Gas contributed 88.19 percent of new capacity, with 4.91 percent of new capacity coming from Wind and Solar contributing 6.04 percent, Natural Gas, Solar and Wind made up 99.14 percent of new capacity in October. The only capacity added that was not fueled by Natural Gas, Wind or Solar was a 20 MW battery installation at the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power and a 900 kW steam turbine using waste heat at Devon Energy’s Beaver Creek Gas Plant in Wyoming. In October 2018 the total added capacity reported was 2442.1 MW, compared to the 795.9 MW added in October 2017.
The chart below shows the monthly capacity retirements so far for 2018. The scale on the Y axis has been adjusted to start at 25% since there is no month in which coal capacity was retired where the proportion of coal capacity retired was less than that figure and between January and June, the minor contributors were so small that, they are barely visible even with the scale starting at twenty percent. In October the only retirements noted were three internal combustion engines fueled by Distillate Fuel Oil at the Church Street Plant in the City of Manassas – (VA) amounting to 2.6 MW, a 10 MW Natural Gas Fired Combustion Turbine in Tallahassee, FL, two Natural Gas Fired Steam Turbines at the Gordon Evans Energy Center in Kansas amounting to 530 MW, a 61 MW Conventional Steam Coal plant at the Tecumseh Energy Center also in Kansas and two Conventional Steam Coal units at the Pulliam Plant, Green Bay, WI amounting to 209.9 MW.
Following the posting of the previous edition of this report a request was made for a graph that better represented the scale of the capacity additions and retirements. Below is a chart for monthly net additions/retirements and another for the year to date.
Below is a table of the top ten states in order of coal consumption for electricity production for October 2018 and the year before for comparison