Monday, October 11, 2010

US Electricity Usage

The New York Times this morning has a piece about how the planned nuclear resurgence is being cut back in the face of a) declining demand for electricity due to the state of the economy, and b) lack of previously anticipated climate legislation:
Just a few years ago, the economic prognosis for new nuclear reactors looked bright. The prospect of growing electricity demand, probable caps on carbon-dioxide emissions and government loan guarantees prompted companies to tell the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that they wanted to build 28 new reactors.

The economic slump, which has driven down demand and the price of competing energy sources, and the failure of Congress to pass climate legislation has changed all that, at least for now.

Constellation Energy’s announcement on Saturday that it had reached an impasse with the federal government over the fee for a loan guarantee on a new reactor in Maryland is a sign of how much the landscape has been transformed.

Essentially, the Energy Department argued that Constellation’s project is so risky that the company must pay a high fee or provide other assurances of repayment if it wants the taxpayers to guarantee its construction loans. Constellation said the government’s demand was “unreasonably burdensome.”

The government is hardly the only one to question the economics of nuclear power right now. The would-be builders of seven reactors around the country have deferred their projects in the last few months.

J. Scott Peterson, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry’s trade group, said the “pause” in nuclear building plans mirrors delays in other industrial projects. “It’s principally because of the economic situation,” he said.
I was curious to look at the data behind this story, which is available from the EIA in their Electrical Power Monthly Table 1.1, through June.  Here is the total electricity usage, annual from 1996 on (with a half year for 2010), and monthly data since 2008 superposed:

Usage peaked in 2007, and has mostly declined since, with a very slight recovery in 2010.  To get a better feel for the monthly fluctuations, here is the last three years on the same Jan-Dec scale to allow us to see the seasonality:

Demand rises in summer (with air conditioning) and again in the middle of winter.  A lot of the recovery in 2010 came in May and June, and thus may have as much to do with the record heat in the early part of the year as it does with economic recovery.

Next is the split according to fuel source:

The largest source has always been coal, with natural gas, nuclear, and hydro being the other major sources.  Most oil generation of electricity was eliminated by the 1970s oil shocks (and the little that remained was largely wiped out by the 2005-2008 price shock).

Finally, here is a line graph of the same data to see the individual trends:

Coal has taken the hardest hit with the economic contraction, with natural gas continuing to rise (with a pause in 2007 due to the high prices then, no doubt, but now continuing as shale gas creates comfort over future availability).  "Other renewables" (which will be mostly wind) has risen in recent years, but from a low base.

One thing that I wasn't really aware of is the marked decline in hydro-electric production since the mid 1990s. Anyone know the cause of that?


Gary said...

Up here in the Pacific Northwest, hydro power and salmon habitat remain locked in battle. Over the years reservoirs have silted up and now there is often a requirement to spill water that doesn't make electricity to aid fish. A couple of dams on the Snake have been removed. For several recent years, snow packs have been lower than normal (climate change?) meaning less water for the dams. I think its the cumulative effect of all of these things, plus the fact that the resource has been fully utilized for decades, that mean hydro can only decrease in importance in the future.

Unknown said...

The Colorado River Basin is in the midst of an epic drought, no doubt affecting power generation.

Bruce Ross said...

FERC relicensings of private dams and federal policy choices (or lawsuits!) have in many cases led to more water being released into rivers without generating power. The Trinity River diversion in far northern California, for instance, produces considerably less power (and leaves more water in the river) than it did for decades