As Energy Exports Increase, Renewables Fuel the Domestic Grid
The United States is producing more energy than ever before, which has allowed US companies to export its natural gas overseas. Companies are able to export excess natural because of the US’s energy grid and the country’s diversity in energy generation methods.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook 2019 (published in January 2019), the US is set to become a net exporter of energy in 2020 due in part to historically low natural gas prices combined with historically high natural gas production, growing renewable generation levels, and increased output of nuclear power plants. While the US is producing more energy, energy efficiency technologies used across end-use sectors has kept consumption steady, allowing for natural gas and natural gas exports abroad.
Understanding the Grid
Energy is created at a generator, which may be powered by renewable means (solar panels, wind turbines, hydroelectric dams, biomass incineration), by nuclear processes, and by burning fossil fuels (coal and natural gas). Electricity is then transmitted through substations that use transformers to convert it into high voltage electricity and distributed by utility lines owned and operated by the electric utility companies that we pay for our electricity.
Electric utility companies act as a broker for energy. While sometimes they may own generators that make the electricity that they distribute, they also purchase it from other companies that utilize the different forms of generation. This means that as the US is able to generate more watts using renewable and nuclear generation, electricity distribution companies are to purchase more watts from these sources, ultimately freeing up fossil fuels for export.
Why This Matters
While many Americans may be indifferent toward how their energy is produced, the fact that the US can export natural gas aboard shows that there is security in the country’s energy grid. Unlike resources that we use every day like water, there really is not all that much capacity to store generated energy for future consumption at this time. For the most part, it is commercially generated and instantaneously transmitted to transformers and then transmission lines to its end use destination.
On one level, these production trends so adequacy and reliability in these renewable and nuclear energy sources; we are more able to rely on them being a static source of energy in our grid. On another level, because technologies are driving the price of renewable generation down and because we are able to more efficiently leverage nuclear to produce more energy with the same amount of materials and power plants, the energy market can safely displace some of its use of fossil fuels.