Longtime members know that I have written about a “not-all-eggs-in-one-basket” energy portfolio more than once. I have always been a proponent of a balanced portfolio of power supply in order to keep prices affordable over a long period of time.
What I am seeing and what I have been reading over the past several months is making me uneasy. It feels like the industry is drifting away from a balanced portfolio of power. I worry that we may one day wake up to find our basket contains fewer eggs.
I recently read that three out of every 10 coal generators have closed permanently in the past five years. By 2023, there may be 54 nuclear plants in operation. This would be down from the 65 that were in operation in 2013.
It doesn’t take an industry expert to see that there will be more coal plants closing in the coming decade. The fact that some states are now subsidizing nuclear facilities to keep them open and save thousands of jobs is also clear evidence that the nuclear industry is at a perilous stage as well.
At some point in our future, the biggest eggs in our basket will be natural gas and wind. Solar will remain solid but a very minor egg. The coal and nuclear eggs are clearly showing signs of cracking.
Why? Low natural gas prices and declining renewable costs are the big reasons. Natural gas pricing is all about supply. Today, we have an abundant supply. Renewables are currently competitive due to federal subsidies and declining production costs.
Another publication I came across a short time ago quoted an industry expert who believes that the shale gas boom is not a revolution. He believes that it simply bought the U.S. a decade or so of normal supply before facing another period of scarcity. Before the present gas boom/revolution, similar experts said we were going to run out of natural gas. Your guess is as good as mine as to which expert to believe.
What I do know is that the U.S. Department of Energy came out with a report that said fossil fuels still accounted for 81 percent of all energy used last year. This is the lowest percentage of fossil fuel use in the last 100 years. As the yoke drains from the coal egg, the natural gas shell continues to expand.
What happens when renewable subsidies go away? What happens when states no longer subsidize nuclear facilities? It is a simple process of elimination to conclude that natural gas could become even more important.
What can we do about it? It’s an easy answer to type, but a harder one to execute as our options and opportunities seem to be dwindling. However, we simply must continue to try to maintain a diverse portfolio at every turn.
Our coal and nuclear eggs need to be handled with care. The eggs in the renewable basket need to maintain their current declining prices. Finally, we need to be looking at stable, long-term contracts for natural gas eggs. It is a delicate balancing of many baskets as we try to make it back to the house in an ever-swirling environment without cracking any eggs.