According to preliminary figures just released by the Energy Information Administration, natural gas finally caught coal as the primary source of electrical generation for the first time in history last April. Figures are not yet available for the rest of the year. The preliminary figures are not final but generally do not change by more than .1 percent on review.
The graph tracks electrical generation in millions of megawatt-hours since 2007. The blue line at the top represent coal, the brow n represents natural gas, the yellow line is nuclear, the light green line is hydro, the dark green line is renewables other than hydro and the red line at the bottom is “others,” which generally means oil.
As the graph illustrates, the demand for electricity is very seasonal. Coal generally peaks in the summer and the winter while natural gas has only peaked in the summer. This is because gas was previously used mostly for peaking power on very hot summer days. The pattern has stayed very constant throughout the five-year period. The only thing that changed recently was that coal fell far below its historical range while gas began to move up just a little early in the season. They both hit 32 percent of the nation’s power in April.
Gas is likely to continue to rise since more gas plants are being brought on line while coal plants are being retired. Nuclear has suffered some setback as several major reactors have been down for extended periods. Hydro has been very steady and renewables are not rising very fast. Natural gas appears to be on the way to becoming the nation’s principal source of electricity.