Gas power generation ramped up to cover increases in demand and coal phase-outs in the US - 2022 review
February 7, 2023
2022 REVIEW: In 2022, total average electricity consumption increased in the United States by 4% compared to 2021. This is in particular due to several severe weather events: heatwaves in summer, cold temperatures, and storms in winter. Even if renewable energy represented most of the capacity additions in the grid, the US is still relying heavily on fossil-based electricity generation - gas was the main electricity source used to replace coal-based generation.
Electricity consumption increased in 2022
Electricity consumption was higher during summer because of several heat waves which swept through the country. Consumption was also higher in January and December because of winter storms and colder-than-average temperatures. This highlights how weather impacts electricity consumption:
Record-breaking temperatures were observed from May to September 2022. July 2022 was the third-hottest on record for the US1. Numerous new daily temperature records were observed in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and southern Plains.
In 2021, January and December were particularly mild with temperatures well above the average2. December 2021 has ranked as the hottest in the US records.
Temperatures in January and December 2022 on the other hand, were closer to the average, and multiple winter storms hit the Eastern half of the country2. In December 2022, a bomb cyclone formed, causing powerful winds, white-out conditions, and freezing temperatures. See our blog post3 on the impacts of Storm Elliott on the electricity market for more insights.
Addition of renewable electricity generation
The year 2022 emphasizes the addition of renewable electricity generation in the US market:
Renewable electricity generation rose, with an increase of solar power generation by around 25% and an increase of wind power generation by around 15%.
In the Southwest Power Pool (SWPP), wind production became the leading source of electricity generation in 2022, surpassing coal. Thanks to favorable conditions (strong wind resources and cheap land) wind capacity in SWPP reached more than 30 GW in 2022. As wind generation is the first dispatched, higher generation pushes down demand for fossil-based generation, especially gas.
At the beginning of 2022, solar was expected to represent the largest share of capacity addition in the US4. Most of these additions took place in Texas and California. In Texas, however, solar additions are not enough to displace fossil-based generation. Solar represented only 5% of electricity produced in Texas in 2022 where gas and coal still play the main roles with wind production.
Additional demand has mainly been met by fossil-based generation
As highlighted for Texas, the additions in renewable electricity are not enough to displace fossil-based power generation, especially with the increase in electricity consumption. Indeed, coal phase-out is slow and mainly balanced by an increase in gas power generation:
Coal power generation was significantly lower between June and October, illustrating the retirement of coal power plants. According to the EIA5, more than 6GW of coal power plants retired in 2021, and almost 12GW retired in 2022 across the country.
A large majority of US coal power plants are however planned to remain functioning after 202910. The US is still heavily relying on coal-based power generation, which accounted for 20% of the total electricity production in 20226.
In most of the country, gas power generation increased to compensate for the retirement of coal power plants. Pennsylvania illustrates well this trend, where natural gas displaced most coal-fired generation in the last 20 years7.
The dependency on fossil-based power plants is also illustrated during extreme events when their production significantly increases:
Fossil fuels are usually the main sources dispatched when demand increases suddenly. During the summer, an intense heat wave affected the Midwestern US. This was translated by an increase in coal and gas production in the MISO grid.
The ramping up of coal and gas power generation was also witnessed during the winter storm Elliott3 in December 2022 as illustrated in the above figure
Electricity consumption has increased in the US in 2022. Even though renewable electricity generation increased, the additional demand has mainly been met by fossil-based generation. Coal phase-out is too slow, and the replacement of coal-based generation by gas power generation does not displace fossil fuels from the US electricity markets.
Check out our map here and use the historical view to get the picture per balancing authority.