EIA: Natural Gas to Overtake Coal by 2035

The latest projections from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) are unlikely to quell concern in the coal industry, as the EIA has increased its projections for natural gas production and power burn, while continuing its gloomy outlook for coal.

The EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook Early Release, posted Dec. 16, boosts its estimates of natural gas production from the 2013 outlook by about 11%, reflecting continued growth in shale gas development. While gas price estimates are slightly higher in the near term, the higher production levels caused the EIA to lower its price projections through 2040. This added production makes the U.S. a net exporter by 2018, two years earlier than last year’s projection.

Though the 2013 outlook had coal maintaining its lead over gas through 2040 (with 35% vs. 30%), the 2014 estimates change this outlook considerably, projecting that gas will pass coal by 2035 and take a 35% share of power generation by 2040 as coal falls to 32% (Figure 1). The primary drivers are reduced projections for gas prices and continued regulatory-induced coal plant retirements, while little new coal capacity is added. Installed coal capacity is projected to fall from 310 GW in 2012 to 262 GW in 2040.

eia-aeo-er1. Natural gas will overtake coal as the leading fuel for power generation by 2035. Source: EIA

Nuclear is also projected to lose market share slightly, as new construction and uprates are offset by retirements in the near term, though total installed capacity is projected to remain more or less level by 2040.

Renewables continue their strong growth, reaching parity with nuclear by 2040. Non-hydro renewables represent 28% of overall growth in electricity production from 2012 to 2040 in the 2014 Outlook. (Notably, the Outlook does not assume further policy support beyond expiration of current legislation, and notes that extensions or new policies could have “a large impact” on renewable generation.)

The shift toward gas and renewables drives a continued decline in the nation’s CO2 emissions, with the 2014 outlook projecting that 2040 levels will be 7% below 2005, compared to a 5% decline projected last year.

 —Thomas W. Overton, JD, gas technology editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine)

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