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US electricity trends for the next 20 years

Dec. 19, 2011 - With energy needs increasing, where will the United States obtain its electricity? According to Grist magazine, it's not where you think.


December 19, 2011
By David Manly


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Dec. 19, 2011 – With energy needs increasing, where will the United
States obtain its electricity? According to Grist magazine, it's not
where you think.

In a recent article entitled "The U.S. electricity mix in 20 years: A prediction," Sean Crasten describes the past, present and future of the US energy market.

"What will the U.S. power mix look like in 10 to 20 years?

It's impossible to predict for certain, of course, because there's no way to know what regulators will do. Given the heavily regulated
nature of the electric sector, even in so-called "deregulated" markets,
surprises tend to come from regulatory reform, not innovation. (The
U.S. electric grid has shown itself capable of rapid, large-scale transformation in response to regulations.)

Nevertheless, there is insight to be gained from thinking through how
the generation mix would evolve in the absence of regulatory reform.
Given the lengthy time to design, finance, and construct new generation
facilities, it's relatively easy to do so. The answers are not
encouraging with regard to future grid reliability and price stability.

U.S. generation investments, 1990-2010

It takes 1-2 years to build a typical power plant (more like 5 for
coal, 10-20 for nuke). There's usually another year to fully commission
and work out all the operating bugs. Add in a year or two on the front
end to design and finance and it's safe to say that the generation mix
for the next little while depends primarily on what's already built.

Bearing in mind that we're looking only at what has been built in
response to the current regulatory environment, here are the top five
sources of net capacity additions in the U.S. for the last 20 years. For
context, the U.S. currently has about 1000 gigawatts (GW) of installed
capacity.

  1. Natural gas power plants: 315 GW
  2. Wind turbines: 37 GW
  3. Combined heat and power (CHP) plants: 36 GW
  4. Coal power plants: 12 GW
  5. Hydroelectric plants: 5 GW

Every other generation source added less net capacity over the last 20
years than hydro's 5 GW. (Nuclear actually lost 1 GW of capacity during
that period.) In and of itself, this is fascinating. For all the talk
about coal and nuclear, they are essentially yesterday's technologies."

Read the complete article here.


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