Natural Gas Is The Flexibility Needed For More Wind And Solar

December 31, 2017

I have already shown here and here how U.S. natural gas power plants continue to increase in efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but the high flexibility of these plants will also be increasingly critical in the years ahead. That's because gas is the backup source for more wind and solar power, which are naturally intermittent and need gas peaking plants to compensate for when "the wind doesn't blow" and "the sun doesn't shine." Gas combined cycle plants have a quick "ramp up" ability in a matter of minutes to generate electricity for those unforeseen periods when the wind and/or solar option goes away. As headlined here by MIT Technology Review: "A Gas Power Plant to Make Renewables More Practical."

Looking forward, more laws requiring more wind and solar like Renewable Portfolio Standards will also require a more flexible power grid, with natural gas at the center of that. As seen in the figure below, this is why as more wind and solar generation capacity get added, even more natural gas capacity is added. As I figure it, some 35 states will have natural gas as their main source of electricity by 2022. Nowhere is this more clear than in the great state of Florida, with 21 million people now our third largest state. The "sunshine state" is now surging toward having gas generating 75-80% of its electricity by 2022. I figure that the U.S. needs to add 25,000 megawatts of gas peaking capacity to our grid over the next decade to support the wind and solar build-outs.

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