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Natural Gas and Renewables Are Growing Factors In Our Electricity

From Scott Carlberg

And the winners are – natural gas and renewable energy. That is the message from the US Energy Information Agency* in its new Annual Energy Outlook 2019. The report was released January 24. Natural gas and renewables are the two fastest growing fuels to make electricity in the US. Those are popular fuels in the Carolinas, too.

What is the story? Check the EIA graph to the left. The shift in energy is from low natural gas prices, and that means it is a go-to fuel for new electric generation. Gas plants can be built fast and relatively cheap.

Renewables have grown as tax breaks give them an economic leg up, and as efficiency of renewables go up. Less efficient fossil fuel plants – coal – are being retired. The report expects nuclear generation to decrease a bit as some units may shut down, then stabilize.

Look at the graph and think about the Carolinas. North Carolina ranked second in the US in the amount of installed solar power generating capacity in 2017. North Carolina has the Southeast’s largest wind farm, with a generating capacity of 208 megawatts from 104 tall turbines. (Source)

In South Carolina, natural gas deliveries to the electric power sector have almost tripled in the past decade. In 2017, renewable energy resources accounted for almost 6% of South Carolina’s net electricity generation, with nearly equal amounts of power coming from conventional hydroelectric and biomass-fueled generation. (Source)

For instance, Duke Energy plans to add solar and natural gas generation in the Carolinas. (Source) Just last week (January 16) an Orangeburg (SC) solar plant was complete.  The next day saw a news story about these companies — Gap, Inc., Bloomberg, Salesforce and Workday — buying into a North Carolina solar facility. This growth mirrors what is happening in the US.

This EIA graph to the right is important: “Increasing energy efficiency across end-use sectors keeps U.S. energy consumption

These are just a few nuggets from the report. It has a lot of data, and ECC will write about the report more.

When the EIA held a webcast about the 2019 Outlook, speakers made a comment that is essential for consumers to know: The cleanest and cheapest electricity comes from the the power plant that doesn’t have to be built. In other words, conserving energy is critically important for us. Customers have that within their control as they set their thermostats, buy efficient appliances or drive less. Small savings add up.

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Background: The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policy-making, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment.