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U.S. Natural Gas Consumption Slips in 2017 as Renewables Reach New Heights, Says EIA

In a stark change from recent trends, natural gas consumption in the United States fell 1.4% in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Natural gas and coal each posted year/year consumption declines, although gas consumption still was twice that of coal in 2017. Furthermore, aside from 2017, gas consumption has increased in eight of the last 10 years on growth driven by increased use in the electric power sector, the EIA said. Overall, gas consumption increased by 24% from 2005 to 2017.

Coal consumption, meanwhile, fell by 2.5% in 2017 following larger annual declines of 13.6% and 8.5% in 2015 and 2016, respectively. U.S. coal consumption peaked in 2005 and has declined nearly 40% since then, EIA said.

Petroleum was the only fossil fuel to see demand increase in 2017, although consumption remains 10% lower than its peak level set in 2005. Petroleum, mainly used in the transportation sector, but also used in petroleum-based fuels for homes, businesses and industries, has been the largest source of energy consumption in the United States since surpassing coal in 1950.

At the same time that fossil fuel demand has decreased, the share of renewable energy consumption in 2017 reached its highest level since the late 1910s, climbing to 11.3%. The largest growth in renewables over the past decade has been in solar and wind generation.

In its latest Short-Term Energy Outlook released in June, the EIA said it expected the share of U.S. total utility-scale electricity generation from gas-fired power plants to rise to 34% in 2018 from 32% in 2017, while the share from coal will average 28% this year and 2019, down from 30% in 2017. The nuclear share of generation was 20% in 2017 and is forecast to remain flat in 2018 and decline slightly to 19% in 2019.

EIA is forecasting domestic coal consumption to decline 5% this year, with most of the decrease expected to be in the electric power sector. EIA estimated that wind generation during 2017 averaged 697,000 MWh/d, with forecasts it will rise to 746,000 MWh/d in 2018 and to 777,000 MWh/d in 2019.

If factors such as precipitation and snowpack remain as forecast, EIA expects conventional hydropower to generate 752,000 MWh/d in 2019, which would make it the first year in the United States that wind generation exceeds hydropower generation.

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