Power generation: Where were we then? Where are we now?

A change in tide in domestic fuel resources and the introduction of renewables transforming how we operate our grid has led to significant shifts in the energy industry.

By Joe Estrada May 22, 2019

A change in tide in domestic fuel resources and the introduction of renewables transforming how we operate our grid has led to significant shifts in the energy industry.  In the late 2000s, coal was the dominant electric generation fuel source and accounted for almost half of the domestic generation market share. In contrast, today, natural gas constitutes approximately 35 percent of the generation market share while coal’s generation share has decreased to less than 30 percent. Renewables are also penetrating the market at an increasing rate.

The Emergence of Natural Gas

2016 marked the first year when coal no longer held the dominant market share for domestic electricity generation. Natural gas production, largely concentrated at the Utica and Marcellus Shale regions, coupled with the ability to easily finance construction of new state-of-the-art natural gas powered plants, resulted in a booming market scenario for the natural gas industry. Additionally, environmental drivers and an aging generation fleet further suppressed the coal market.

The Penetration of Renewable Energy

In the short term, non-hydro renewable energy like solar photovoltaic and on-shore wind will be the fastest growing source of domestic electricity generation. The generation market share from these resources more than doubled in this decade alone.

Increasing demand leading to higher production volumes and efficiency improvements in technology have decreased the cost of renewable generation in the past two decades. Renewable energy like solar and wind are penetrating the market and will continue to become more cost competitive versus traditional generation technologies.

Trending Distributed Energy Resources

We have also seen an increasing trend in distributed energy resource demand.  Distributed generation, like rooftop solar or smaller generators, are trending within industrial, commercial, and, at a smaller scale, residential end-users. Combined heat and power generators can improve energy resilience for commercial and industrial end-users; reducing the impacts of an emergency by keeping critical facilities running without interruption of electric or thermal service. Residential and commercial energy storage can shift load peaks to and from concentrated geographies.

The Future of Distributed Energy Through Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are also beginning to expand the nation’s distributed energy portfolio potential.  Domestic electric vehicle ownership is projected to increase to approximately 150 million units by 2030. This shift is expanding beyond individual consumer use and into larger fleets and municipally owned mass-transit vehicles. To put this into perspective, a car with a 30 kWh battery stores as much electricity as the average U.S. residence consumes in a day. The ability to flexibly manage charging stations while meeting customer demands can provide a new kind of distributed energy resource. Integration of this model into the electric grid can deliver benefits to utility customers, shareholders, vehicle owners, and entire communities.

This article originally appeared on Dewberry’s blog. Dewberry is a CFE Media content partner. 

Joe Estrada