Unconventional gas, transport, storage plays growing role in power generation

natural gas well elp

Domestic natural gas, especially from shale regions, should remain cheap and plentiful as effective methods for transporting and storing it emerge in pipeline-constrained areas.

This was a recurring theme during a Dec. 14 session at the PennWell POWER-GEN in Orlando titled “Unconventional Natural Gas Supply for Power Generation.”

“Hey, we are floating in gas. The question is what we are going to do about it,” said Albert Ferrer of Mott MacDonald.

While much has been made about the growth in domestic shale gas and it’s displacement of coal-fired generation, speakers during the panel said that potential remains for new power generation from natural gas-related products.

For example, new power plants in the U.S. Virgin Islands are being upgraded to burn propane, said Jeffrey Goldmeer of GE Power. Propane is cheaper than diesel fuel, Goldmeer noted.

Both the Harley power station in St. Thomas and the Richmond power station in St. Croix should be upgraded by the end of January 2017, Goldmeer said. The propane is being shipped to the Virgin Islands as pressurized LPG or liquefied petroleum gas.

The GE Power official noted that natural gas turbines can typically burn a variety of gas-related fuels.

In addition, liquefied natural gas (LNG) has helped fuel more of Japan’s electric power needs in the aftermath of the Tokyo Electric Power Fukushima nuclear meltdown accident a few years ago, said William Wells of Eagle LNG Partners. Eagle LNG is an affiliate of Ferris Natural Gas Fuels.

Eagle LNG expects to open a new LNG export facility in Jacksonville, Fla., in 2019.

Navigant Energy Director Gordon Pickering said the United States has become a net exporter of natural gas during 2016. It’s the first time that has happened since 1957, he added.

The United States has become a major energy superpower, Pickering said. In addition, natural gas continues to grow in importance domestically.

Domestic gas production is expected to increase 47 percent by 2040, said GE’s Goldmeer. Much of the growth is coming from the Marcellus and Utica shale areas, Pickering said.

Navigant currently expects 20 percent of U.S. coal power generation to be retired by 2020. The election of Republican Donald Trump might alter this scenario “slightly,” Pickering said.

Constraints in regional pipeline capacity, in New England and elsewhere, have limited the reach of gas so far. Pipelines often just don’t get built, Wells said.

There are ways to work around this limitation – including transport of either LNG or compressed natural gas (CNG) by truck, speakers said.

In addition, Mott MacDonald is developing “floating storage re-gasification units (FSRU) as an answer to domestic or international locations with “no gas or no gas infrastructure,” Ferrer said. These floating units can store the gas aboard ships at coastal locations, Ferrer said.

The United States natural gas industry has come a long way since the 1970s when Congress and the administration of President Jimmy Carter “thought we were running out of it,” Ferrer said.

The panel discussion was moderated by Jason Graham, an engineer with Avista. The panel discussion was organized in part by ABB Project Development Director Rodney Durban.

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