The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Natural Gas and Renewables, California Edition

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted September 12, 2016

There’s more on the essential link between renewables and natural gas in utility-scale power generation.

Last month we noted new research showing that because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, the use of renewables by utilities in generating electricity needs a big assist from natural gas. We also pointed out how a rise in electricity generation from renewables this year has been accompanied by record-setting use of natural gas in the power sector. There’s an essential relationship between the two – one that fits with our view that an all-of-the-above approach is the best way to ensure the U.S. economy and American households are well-supplied with energy.

A new analysis from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) shows how this is working in California, a big state with big electricity needs. EIA focuses on the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which maintains the balance between electricity supply and demand throughout much of the state. EIA:

Because of differences in the hourly output of certain electricity generators, some of which are nearly constant (nuclear) and some of which can vary considerably during the day (solar, wind), output from thermal generators (mainly natural gas) and electricity imports from other regions are used to balance overall electricity supply and demand in the region.

EIA’s graphic shows the load-bearing role of thermal generation, virtually all of it natural gas, in CAISO over a 24-hour period:


Natural gas contributes the largest share of electricity generation in CAISO and has the widest range in terms of hourly generation, EIA says:


Both graphics illustrate the benefits of abundant, affordable natural gas in the power mix. Non-hydro renewables are necessarily tied to available sunlight and the presence of wind, underscoring the need for dependable natural gas to keep the lights on.

Not only that – as we’ve pointed out before, the increasing use of cleaner-burning natural gas is the chief reason U.S. energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide decreased 2.7 percent last year and were 12 percent lower in 2015 than they were in 2005. The United States leads the world in reducing carbon emissions because of abundant natural gas, safely produced with hydraulic fracturing.

To repeat: The connection between natural gas from safe and responsible fracking and climate progress – without impacting, jobs, the economy, energy security and consumers – is clear. So is the essential link between natural gas and renewables in power generation.


Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.