A brutal cold start of the year has been followed by moderate temperatures across the country. Natural gas prices have risen significantly since early January 2014, as inventories were being depleted at a faster than normal rate due to higher than normal heating demand. Nevertheless, record production and tepid demand after the spring months triggered a massive selloff in mid-June 2014, with the front month losing more than 20 percent to date. Early concerns of tight supply conditions ahead of the next heating season have eased due to weekly record or near-record injections. Electricity prices have also plunged not only because of the recent drop in natural gas prices, but also because of a drop in heat rates. In Texas, peak load had not been this low in June and July since 2010. Low electricity demand has depressed spot and forward heat rates.
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A great deal has been made out of the need to shift away from coal fired power plants and toward renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar in the U.S. While this is certainly a laudable goal, the full impact of a move to renewable power generation has consequences beyond simply reducing emissions and finding alternative power sources. Specifically, determining how to effectively integrate these new power sources, particularly wind and solar, which are highly variable and can go from zero to full production almost instantaneously, pose significant challenges for grid operators.
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