Are Concerns About the Reliability of Natural Gas Electricity Generation Overblown?
The United States has been powered by electricity for a century. Where that power comes from, however, has shifted dramatically over the last few years, as fracking technology dramatically lowered the cost of natural gas, and emissions regulations hampered the use of coal. Natural gas topped coal as the leading fuel for American electricity generation in 2015. Despite new advances in clean coal technology, which have helped to keep America’s oldest fossil fuel competitive, natural gas remains crucial for American electricity generation. As it grows its marketshare, fears about the reliability of natural gas supplies are waning.
Although supporters of coal argue that it has a more stable supply and is less subject to price fluctuations than natural gas, the evidence of the last few years shows that the reliability of natural gas is increasing as it becomes a more common fuel choice. Today, natural gas generates about a third of U.S. electricity. With the construction of additional pipelines and storage facilities, it has become easier to guarantee a consistent on-site supply of natural gas for electricity production.
Like the electric grid itself, the network of pipelines that supply natural gas to America’s generators has been the subject of years of studies which have searched for potential vulnerabilities. One such study, which was released in late March by PJM Interconnection, a company that owns and manages the transmission grid for 65 million customers in 13 states in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic, concluded that its energy sources would remain reliable even if the use of coal and nuclear continued to decline.
“Natural gas generation, on the other hand, performed well across a broad range of reliability attributes,” the study found. Research examined the reliability of natural gas supply for a range of generation portfolios that blended natural gas, coal, and nuclear to varying degrees. According to their findings, natural gas remained a reliable option even when used for 86 percent of generating needs, the extreme upper limit of what the study considered feasible.
The findings support earlier research by the Department of Defense, which examined the reliability of natural gas supply during worst-case scenario power outages. The study found that, in the face of a moderate outage of between two weeks to three months, there was a “minimal” risk of interrupted deliveries. In addition, the report found that this slight risk of delivery interruption could be mitigated through the use of on-site natural gas storage.
“Historically, there have been very few outages in the natural gas distribution system, with firm delivery contracts exhibiting greater than 99.999% reliability,” the researchers found. “The interconnected nature of the natural gas system has allowed workarounds for any transmission line problems with natural gas coming from storage or from other producing regions and pipelines.”
The study also found that supply risks were decreasing overtime, as shale exploration and new pipelines in places like Pennsylvania helped to mitigate supply shortages in certain areas.
Catherine Landry, vice president of communications at the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, tells InsideSources that natural gas is “an excellent source for low-emission baseload generation” and reliability fears are misguided.
“Pipelines delivering that gas are also extremely reliable for all customers, including electric generators, provided that the electric generator has contracted for the correct service,” Landry said, adding that the most likely supply disruption would occur if a shipper chose a less costly option.
“If a shipper chooses an interruptible service (which are less costly), they are subject to interruptions during period of peak demand.”
Read full article at Inside Sources