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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for February 2018  |  Release Date: April 24, 2018  |  Next Release Date: May 24, 2018

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Highlights: February 2018

  • Wholesale electricity and natural gas prices were considerably lower in the Northeast than in previous months absent bitterly cold weather.
  • Net generation increased by 5.6% compared to the previous year because the country experienced one of the warmest February's on record in 2017, which led to a decreased need for residential heating the previous year.
  • Electricity demand oscillated greatly in Texas as temperatures swung back and forth repeatedly during the month.

Key indicators

Plant-level cooling water and air emissions data are now available on a new beta version of EIA’s Electricity Data Browser

EIA has enhanced the Electricity Data Browser (EDB) to simplify access to some of EIA’s most important, but also most complex, data series: information on plant-level cooling water use and estimates of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The cooling water and emissions data are currently on a beta version of the EDB, where users are welcome to give their feedback. The cooling water and emission data will be incorporated into the existing version of the EDB soon.

EIA collects cooling water data for plants with combustible-fueled steam electric generating capacity of 100 megawatt (MW) or more. In 2016, 64% of all generation was produced by steam units (excluding geothermal units). Of those steam units, 94% report cooling water data to EIA. Thermoelectric (steam-powered) power plants include fossil-fueled units (natural gas, coal, nuclear, and oil) and plants fueled by renewable sources such as biomass and solar thermal plants, which also require cooling.

Thermoelectric power plants generate electricity by heating water to high temperatures to produce steam, which passes through a turbine to generate electricity. Once the steam has passed through the turbine, it must be cooled so it can condense back to a liquid and be returned to the boiler or steam generator. Three main types of cooling systems are currently in use: a once-through system, where cooling water is drawn from a natural body such as a lake or river and then passed through a plant a single time before being returned to the same (or sometimes different) body of water; a recirculating system, where water is kept in a closed-loop piping and used repeatedly via a cooling tower that exposes the water to ambient air; and a dry cooling system that uses large fans to pass air over the cooling water.

The operational cooling water data is collected from thermoelectric plants reporting to EIA on the Form EIA-923 (Power Plant Operations Report) survey based on cooling system equipment data submitted on the Form EIA-860 (Annual Electric Generator Report). In the past, this data was published only in Excel format.

The beta version of the EDB allows the user to select a plant, see a list of all cooling systems at the plant, and see key operating water-usage data for each system. The data include water withdrawal, discharge, and consumption, and measures of water-use intensity, such as gallons consumed per megawatthour of power generated. As with the other EDB data sets, the cooling water data can be graphed (standalone or in comparison to other data, such as generation) and downloaded. The data are available for the 2014–16 data years on a monthly and annual basis. For example, illustrated below are the monthly water withdrawals (water removed from a water body for cooling) for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA) Browns Ferry Nuclear plant in Alabama for 2014–16.

In addition to the cooling water data, the beta version of the EDB also includes estimates of annual plant-level emissions for power plants that burn combustible fuels, such as natural gas, coal, and biomass. Estimates are shown for emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon dioxide (CO2). EIA already posts these emission data in spreadsheet format for the years 2013–16. The beta version of the EDB offers a handy way to download and graph annual plant level emissions data for data years 2001–16. Illustrated below on separate figures are annual NOx, SO2, and CO2 emissions for Florida Power and Light’s West County Energy Center, one of the largest fossil-fueled generators of electricity in the United States.

Finally, the beta version of the EDB also allows the user, using the compare plants feature, to generate side-by-side comparison of plants in terms of their location, generation, energy consumption, and water usage for a given month, quarter or year. An example thumbnail for a series of AES plants is provided below.

Principal Contributor:

Sara Hoff

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