New data from the EIA confirms the upswing of natural gas as the number one fuel for electricity generation in the U.S.

“Last year marked the first time on record that the average capacity factor of natural gas combined-cycle plants exceeded that of coal steam plants,” the EIA reported yesterday.

The capacity factor of the U.S. natural gas combined-cycle fleet averaged 56% in 2015, compared with 55% for coal steam power plants. This moves gas ahead of coal by this measure for the first time.

According to the EIA report, how the plants are used on a daily basis is a large factor in changing the electric power generation mix.

“The mix of energy sources used in U.S. electricity generation has changed dramatically over the past few years. This change is particularly evident in the shift from the use of coal to natural gas for power generation. The industry has been building new natural gas capacity and retiring coal plants, but another important factor behind the changing generation mix is the day-to-day pattern of how existing power plants are used.

“Coal power plants primarily rely on steam-driven generating units. In contrast, power plants fueled by natural gas rely on a variety of technologies. Natural gas-fired generating units driven by combustion turbines or steam turbines accounted for about 28% and 17%, respectively, of total natural gas-fired capacity in 2015. Combined-cycle plants, which are designed as an efficient hybrid of the other two technologies, accounted for 53% of gas-fired generation capacity and tend to be used more often than the other types of natural gas generators, as measured by capacity factors.”

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