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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for October 2017  |  Release Date: Dec. 22, 2017  |  Next Release Date: Jan. 24, 2018

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Resource Use: October 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 October 2017, net generation in the United States increased by 2.1% compared to the previous year. This year-over-year increase in electricity generation occurred primarily because the country experienced a cooler October in 2017 than it did the previous year. This led to an increased need for residential and commercial customer heating compared to October 2016 and thus, an increased need for electricity generation. At the regional-level, all regions of the country except the MidAtlantic and Western regions saw an increase in electricity generation from the previous October.

All regions of the country saw a decrease in electricity generation from coal compared to the previous year. However, the change in natural gas from October 2016 was much more mixed throughout each of the regions. The Northeast, Central, Southeast, and Florida all saw increases in electricity generation from natural gas, with the Central region seeing the largest increase (1,862 gigawatthours) of these four regions. The MidAtlantic, West, and Texas all saw decreases in natural gas generation, with Texas having the largest decrease (-475 gigawatthours) of these three regions.

Net generation from nuclear was up 8.7% compared to the previous year. Electricity generation from other renewable sources increased in every region, mainly driven by the increase in production from newly-built wind and solar power plants that came online during 2017.

Fossil fuel consumption by region





map showing electricity regions

The chart above compares coal consumption in October 2016 and October 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 October 2017, all regions of the country saw an increase in the share of natural gas consumption at the expense of coal.

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 decreased from the previous month, going from $3.04/MMBtu in September 2017 to $2.95/MMBtu in October 2017. Alternatively, the natural gas price for New York City (Transco Zone 6 NY) increased from the previous month, going from $2.33/MMBtu in September 2017 to $2.42/MMBtu in October 2017. The average price of Central Appalachian coal saw an increase as well from the previous month, going from $2.31/MMBtu in September 2017 to $2.40/MMBtu in October 2017.

For the fourth consecutive month, the New York Harbor residual oil price saw an increase from the previous month, going from $9.01/MMBtu in September 2017 to $9.25/MMBtu in October 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. The price of natural gas at Henry Hub ($23.65/MWh) was below the price of Central Appalachian coal ($25.95/MWh) on a $/MWh basis. The price of natural gas at New York City ($19.39/MWh) on a $/MWh basis was below the price of Central Appalachian coal ($25.95/MWh), and the spread between the two remained largely the same compared to the previous months.

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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