Electricity

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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for March 2017  |  Release Date: May 25, 2017  |  Next Release Date: June 26, 2017

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Resource Use: March 2017

Supply and fuel consumption

In this section, we look at the resources used to produce electricity. Generating units are chosen to run primarily on their operating costs, of which fuel costs account for the lion's share. Therefore, we present below, electricity generation output by fuel type and generator type. Since the generator/fuel mix of utilities varies significantly by region, we also present generation output by region.

Generation output by region



map showing electricity regions

In March 2017, net generation in the United States increased 4.5% compared to the previous year. The country, as a whole, experienced temperatures that were, albeit warmer than normal, significantly colder than March 2016. This colder weather relative to March 2016 was a leading driver of increased generation in March 2017. At the regional-level, all parts of the country saw an increase in electricity generation compared to March 2016, except for Florida, which saw a slight decrease (-0.2%) compared to the previous year.

All regions of the country saw an increase in electricity generation from coal compared to March 2016. Conversely, most parts of the country, except for the Northeast and Florida, saw a decrease in electricity generation from natural gas. This increase in coal generation with a subsequent decrease in natural gas generation mainly occurred due to the rise in natural gas prices that happened over the past year.

Net generation from nuclear was down 1.6% compared to March 2016. For the second consecutive month, Florida saw the largest percent decrease (-30.6%) in nuclear generation from the previous year due to the St. Lucie nuclear plant being offline in March 2017 for a refueling outage. Electricity generation from other renewable sources was up in all regions of the country, with Florida seeing the largest percent increase (28.1%) due to an increase in solar plants that have come online since the previous year.

Fossil fuel consumption by region





map showing electricity regions

The chart above compares coal consumption in March 2016 and March 2017 by region and the second tab compares natural gas consumption by region over the same period. Changes in coal and natural gas consumption closely mirrored their respective changes in coal and natural gas generation.

The third tab presents the change in the relative share of fossil fuel consumption by fuel type on a percentage basis, calculated using equivalent energy content (Btu). This highlights changes in the relative market shares of coal, natural gas, and petroleum. In March 2017, all regions of the country saw an increase in the share of coal consumption at the expense of natural gas consumption.

The fourth tab presents the change in coal and natural gas consumption on an energy content basis by region. The changes in total coal and natural gas consumption were similar to the changes seen in total coal and natural gas net generation in each region.

Fossil fuel prices




To gain some insight into the changing pattern of consumption of fossil fuels over the past year, we look at relative monthly average fuel prices. A common way to compare fuel prices is on an equivalent $/MMBtu basis as shown in the chart above. The average price of natural gas at Henry Hub increased slightly from the previous month, going from $2.90/MMBtu in February 2017 to $2.96/MMBtu in March 2017. The natural gas price for New York City (Transco Zone 6 NY) also increased, going from $2.92/MMBtu in February 2017 to $3.57/MMBtu in March 2017.

For the second consecutive month, the New York Harbor residual oil price saw a decrease from the previous month, going from $9.26/MMBtu in February 2017 to $8.26/MMBtu in March 2017. Regardless, oil used as a fuel for electricity generation is almost always priced out of the market.

A fuel price comparison based on equivalent energy content ($/MMBtu) does not reflect differences in energy conversion efficiency (heat rate) among different types of generators. Gas-fired combined-cycle units tend to be more efficient than coal-fired steam units. The second tab shows coal and natural gas prices on an equivalent energy content and efficiency basis. For the second consecutive month, the price of natural gas at Henry Hub was below the price of Central Appalachian coal on a $/MWh basis. However, the price of natural gas at New York City on a $/MWh basis was above the price of Central Appalachian coal, due to the increase in the price of natural gas at New York City since the previous month.

The conversion shown in this chart is done for illustrative purposes only. The competition between coal and natural gas to produce electricity is more complex. It involves delivered prices and emission costs, the terms of fuel supply contracts, and the workings of fuel markets.

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End Use

Resource Use

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