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GAO Report Finds Electricity Generation Shifts From Coal To Gas, Wind, Solar Power
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A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that natural gas, wind and solar power provided a growing share of the country's electricity generation, while the share of coal and nuclear power generation declined from 2001 to 2013.  The retirement of more coal-fueled power plants in the past decade has contributed to the decline of coal-powered electricity generation in the U.S., and the trend is likely to continue, the GAO said.  GAO examined the shift in energy mix used to generate electricity at the request of House Science, Space and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).


Meanwhile, generating capacity (the maximum amount of electricity a generator can produce) and actual generation (the actual amount of electricity a generator produces at a specific time) for natural gas has increased dramatically from 2001 to 2013.  During this time, natural-gas generating capacity increased by 181,000 megawatts, and made up 72 percent of the new generating capacity added.  The amount of actual electricity generation from natural gas grew from 17 percent in 2001 to 26 percent in 2013.  Similarly, from 2001 to 2013, the generating capacity and actual generation from wind and, to a lesser amount, solar power plants grew in the U.S.  The amount of actual electricity generation from wind and solar increased from slightly over zero percent in 2001 to 4 percent in 2013, the GAO said.


The GAO report also found that these changes in generation and consumption have led system operators to make changes to maintain reliability of the electricity grid.  For example, natural gas is harder to store on-site than coal, oil and nuclear power, so these natural-gas-fueled power plants rely on real-time delivery of natural gas from pipelines.  As a result, some regions have experienced challenges in maintaining higher demands for natural gas. System operators in turn had to rely on other, more readily available sources such as coal and oil at times of high demand, as well as demand-response programs.  Also, the increased use of wind and solar power has increased the operational uncertainty for electricity generation. In response, system operators alter the operation of traditional power plants to offset wind and solar electricity fluctuations.  View the GAO report here.
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