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Electricity Monthly Update

With Data for January 2020  |  Release Date: March 24, 2020  |  Next Release Date: April 24, 2020

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Resource Use: January 2020

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

Net electricity generation in the United States decreased 5.2% in January 2020 compared to the previous year. This decrease in electricity generation was primarily driven by a very warm January this year compared to January 2019, which led to an overall decreased need for residential heating and thus, an overall decreased need for electricity generation. At the regional-level, all parts of the country, except for Florida, saw a year-over-year decrease in electricity generation.

Electricity generation from coal decreased in all parts of the country compared to the previous year. All regions of the country, except for Texas, saw an increase in natural gas generation compared to January 2019. Nuclear generation as a whole was up 0.7% compared to a year ago, although the Northeast and MidAtlantic saw a decrease in nuclear generation compared to the previous year since nuclear power plants in those regions were not operating at full capacity compared to January 2019.

Fossil fuel consumption by region





map showing electricity regions

The chart above compares coal consumption in January 2019 and January 2020 by region and the second tab compares natural gas consumption by region over the same period. Changes in coal and natural gas consumption were similar to 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. All regions of the country saw their shares of natural gas increase 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. For the second consecutive month, the average price of natural gas at Henry Hub decreased from the previous month, going from $2.30/MMBtu in December 2019 to $2.09/MMBtu in January 2020. The natural gas price for New York City (Transco Zone 6 NY) also decreased for the second consecutive month compared to the previous month, going from $2.69/MMBtu in December 2019 to $2.26/MMBtu in January 2020. For the third consecutive month, the average price of Central Appalachian coal decreased from the previous month, dropping from $2.64/MMBtu in December 2019 to $2.52/MMBtu in January 2020.

The New York Harbor residual oil price saw an increase from the previous month, going from $14.00/MMBtu in December 2019 to $14.38/MMBtu in January 2020. As is the case most months, oil is used primarily for peaking operations and is largely priced out of the market for baseload operations.

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 ($16.78/MWh) was below the price of Central Appalachian coal ($27.20/MWh) on a $/MWh basis, with the spread between the two increasing slightly compared to the previous month, mainly due to the decrease in the Henry Hub natural gas price. The price of natural gas at New York City ($18.10/MWh) was below the price of Central Appalachian coal ($27.20/MWh) during January 2020, with the spread between the two prices decreasing slightly, mainly due to the decrease in the New York City natural gas price compared to 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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