Via The Atlantic, an informative graph on the recent transformation of the American electricity grid:
As the author notes:
It’s worth noting that the raw numbers that underlie the percentages below are enormous, too. Each percentage point of share is roughly 40 million megawatt hours a year. By comparison, all solar projects in 2010 (the last year stats were available) produced 1.3 million megawatt hours.
The only comparable change in the electricity system occurred when nuclear power plants came online in the 1970s, but even that doesn’t match the speed that natural gas has gained generation share (I checked!). What we’re seeing in natural gas is truly a novel thing.
While much of this transition can be blamed on historically low natural gas prices, much of it can also be blamed on President Obama’s war on coal. And just as the Sierra Club worked to defeat coal with their ‘Beyond Coal’ campaign, they will now work to defeat natural gas with their ‘Beyond Natural Gas’ campaign.
It is interesting to ponder what would have happened if America had not discovered the benefits of hydraulic fracturing “fracking” in recent years. Natural gas price would have remained higher, thus making a transition from coal to natural gas more difficult. Voters don’t particularly like rising energy prices, and much of the “cost” of shutting down coal-fired power plants has been absorbed by low natural gas prices. Perhaps the environmental war on coal would have failed, if not for a technological revolution — hydraulic fracturing — that many of them also claim to hate.