Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 24

AMERICA'S Energy Outlook

By Paul Wesslund

A diverse fuel mix
ensures reliability

" D

on't put all your eggs in one basket. "
That age-old piece of wisdom is used by electric
utilities to make sure you receive a reliable supply of
electricity.
Michael Leitman, senior analyst at the Arlington,
Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association,
applies that saying to the utility industry this way:
" You don't want to be too reliant on any one energy
source, " he says. " The goal is that if one resource becomes
constrained, others are there to fill the gap and keep the lights
on. It's about managing risk and priorities. "
Following that advice has been pretty straightforward for
decades. A mix of four energy sources has provided nearly all
generated electricity: coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric power.
But these days, there are more options for the generation
of electricity, and not just because there are more renewable
energy sources such as wind and solar. Batteries are getting
cheaper and powerful enough to supplement generation from
wind turbines during calm weather and solar arrays when the
sun's not shining. Rapid technological advances have allowed
utilities to manage electric power systems in ways that make
energy resources more useful and efficient.
For years, the electric utility industry's main fuel source
was coal. Coal traditionally provided about half the electricity in
the U.S. because it was reliable, plentiful and relatively inexpen-

2%

Solar

America's co-ops:
2019 energy
fuel mix
Nationally, electric
cooperatives and other
utilities use a variety of
fuels to power American
homes and businesses.
This diverse fuel mix
supplies co-op members
with safe, reliable and
affordable power.

7%

Wind

7%

Hydro
power

20%

Nuclear
power

Source: U.S. Energy Information
Administration (2019 data)

24

Georgia Magazine

March 2021

sive. That backbone was supplemented by nuclear
power, hydroelectric power and natural gas.
But that's changed over the last 15 years.
With the introduction of fracking and other
drilling technologies, the supply of natural gas has
increased while the price has fallen dramatically.
Natural gas plants can be built smaller, faster and
cheaper than coal-fired plants, and the output can
be more easily controlled to respond to changes
in power demand from day to day. Coal costs have
risen as a result of environmental regulations, while
renewable energy sources have received more attention because of their benefits to the environment.
By 2016, natural gas had replaced coal as the
largest source of electric power. In 2019, natural gas
made up 38 percent of the electric utility fuel mix;
coal, 23 percent; nuclear, 20 percent; and hydroelectric power, 7 percent. The non-hydro renewable
energy share of electricity production has risen
from almost nothing 10 years ago to 7 percent for
wind and 2 percent for solar, and both continue to
increase.
Two new realities are reshaping the business of
electric power generation.
One is that renewable energy sources don't act
like the more traditional power plants. A coal plant
can run all the time, while wind and
solar shut on and off because the wind
doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't
3%
always shine. But with the second new
Other
reality-the " smart grid " -the use of
38%
these complex renewable energy sourcNatural
es can be managed more efficiently.
gas
Electric utilities are shifting to a
smart grid digital system that includes
automated power management tools
and new ways to manage the flow of
electricity from renewable resources.
These advances will require new skill
sets and new jobs to manage these new
systems, thereby increasing reliability
and resiliency.
Paul Wesslund writes about
consumer and cooperative affairs for the
National Rural Electric Cooperative
Association, the national trade associa23%
tion representing more than 900 local
Coal
electric cooperatives.



Georgia Magazine - March 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Georgia Magazine - March 2021

Contents
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Intro
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Cover1
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Cover2
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Contents
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 4
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 5
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 6
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 7
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 8
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - 9
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Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Cover3
Georgia Magazine - March 2021 - Cover4
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