In its January 2017 Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO), the EIA expects the Henry Hub natural gas spot price to average $3.55 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) in 2017 and $3.73/MMBtu in 2018, both higher than the 2016 average of $2.51/MMBtu.
The confidence interval range for natural gas prices is a market-derived range that reflecting trading on futures, not supply and demand estimates.
The EIA expects natural gas consumption to rise based on a return to more typical winter temperatures, while use of natural gas for electric power generation is expected to decline because of higher fuel prices.
Natural gas-fired power generation is forecast to rise in 2018, but remain below the 2016 level. Current plans for additions show 11.2 GW in 2017 and 25.4 GW in 2018, equating to an overall increase of 8% from the total capacity existing at the end of 2016.
The expansion of natural gas-fired capacity follows five years of net reductions of total coal-fired capacity. Available coal-fired capacity fell by an estimated 47.2 GW between the end of 2011 and the end of 2016, equivalent to a 15% reduction.
The electricity industry has been retiring some coal-fired generators and converting others to run on natural gas in response to environmental regulations, as well as low cost of natural gas resulting from expanded production from shale formations. Many of the natural gas-fired power plants currently under construction are located near major natural gas shale plays or pipeline networks.
Rising natural gas prices could lead developers to postpone or cancel some planned projects, or reduce the capacity used in existing plants. Despite the additions to capacity in 2017, the STEO forecasted share of total U.S. generation supplied by natural gas falls from 34% in 2016 to 32% in 2017. By 2018, however, the scheduled expansion of overall capacity fueled by natural gas is expected to result in a slight increase in natural gas’s share of total U.S. electricity generation despite other factors.