In today’s Electrek Green Energy Brief (EGEB):

  • The decline in natural gas generation in the first four months of 2021 is the first year-over-year decline since 2017.
  • Here are 5 things US households can do this summer to ease stress on the grid and save money.
  • UnderstandSolar is a free service that links you to top-rated solar installers in your region for personalized solar estimates. Tesla now offers price matching, so it’s important to shop for the best quotes. Click here to learn more and get your quotes. — *ad.

Natural gas generation decline

The first four months of 2021 saw natural gas-fired generation in the US’s lower 48 states average 3,394 gigawatt hours per day. That’s a nearly 7% decrease from the same period in 2020, according to data from the US Energy Information Adminstration’s Hourly Electric Grid Monitor

This decline in natural gas generation is the result of higher natural gas prices and increased competition from clean energy. It’s the first year-over-year decline since 2017. 

Yet US electricity generation during the period increased 6.6% compared with 2020 due to colder winter weather. The bad news is that the US tapped into coal-fired generation in the first four months of 2021, because it was cheaper than natural gas. Coal-fired generation increased nearly 40% in the United States during that period and accounted for 23% of total generation. Ultimately, though, coal is on its way out in the US. Out of the total 235 US coal plants, 182 plants (80%) are uneconomic or already retiring.

The EIA reports that wind and solar growth greatly surpassed natural gas growth between May 2020 and February 2021:

Natural gas-fired generation has been facing increased competition from renewable generation in the United States because of recent record-high capacity additions to wind and solar power plants. Between May 2020 and February 2021 (the most recent month for which we have data), 22.5 gigawatts (GW) of combined net wind and solar electric generating capacity additions came online in the United States, a 15% increase. We expect an additional 28.7 GW of wind and solar capacity to enter service during the remainder of 2021, based on our latest Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory. In contrast, between May 2020 and February 2021, 4.8 GW of U.S. natural gas capacity came online, a 1% increase. We expect an additional 3.8 GW of natural gas capacity to come online during the remainder of 2021.

The EIA expects that natural gas-fired generation will decline 9.1% in 2021 and a further 0.7% in 2022.

Reduce your summer electricity usage

The year 2020 was one of the hottest summers on record, and the US West Coast specifically suffered from both wildfires and intense heat waves last August and September. California agencies released a report in January 2021 stating that last summer’s heat waves led to an excessive demand for power, which in turn caused rolling blackouts.

So smart electrical panel and app company Sense conducted a study of homes using anonymized data from last August and found that 55% of electricity usage in the evening timeframe could be reduced or shifted to other times during the day.

Here are five things US households can do this summer to ease stress on the grid and save money on electric bills:

  • 88% of consumption came from air conditioning systems. Cool your home earlier in the day when renewable energy is abundant on the grid, and then turn up the thermostat during the evening hours.
  • Sense’s data shows that 20% of Americans have HVAC systems that cost the homeowner an extra $882 annually on average to keep their homes cool — almost four times as much as the most efficient similar homes. Regular maintenance and upgrades can reduce those costs.
  • Shift activities to off-peak hours. In the summer, energy demand peaks between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. when air conditioners are humming and families are using more appliances. Don’t pile on with optional activities. Run your washer, dryer, or dishwasher in the middle of the day, and schedule your EV to charge in the middle of the night. 
  • During heat waves, pre-cool your home. Set the thermostat to cooler temperatures in the morning and then nudge it up during peak hours to use less energy. If your home is well insulated, it will stay cool through those afternoon hours.
  • Schedule a home energy audit. During the audit, assess which of the following factors have the biggest impacts on cooling bills: the efficiency of the HVAC system itself, whether the home’s envelope is well insulated and tightly sealed, or your preferred thermostat settings.

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