Comparison of Fuels Used to Generate Electricity in the United States – Leidos, Inc. , 2016

Comparison of Fuels Used for Electric Generation in the U.S. – 2016 Update

The use of natural gas as a fuel for electric generation has increased significantly in recent years. Natural gas is an attractive fuel choice compared to other sources in terms of total costs (capital, fuel and operating costs combined), water usage, emissions, and land use requirements.

A 2016 study by Leidos, a science and technology solutions leader addressing challenges in energy, national security, health, and engineering, shows how a typical mid-sized combined cycle natural gas plant compares with other similarly sized electric generation facilities. The report, finalized in 2016, utilizes 2012 data.

Scroll down for more findings and details on the assumptions underpinning these results by category.

Natural Gas is the Cleanest Burning Fossil Fuel

(See also fact sheet on emissions here.  See information on methane emissions here and Natural Gas Council study on methane emissions across the full value chain here and 1-page summary here.)

Natural gas performs well in every major emissions category when compared to other fossil/organic fuels. The following compares emission outputs in tons per year per 1,000 households served:

Natural Gas 0.2 2,518 0.2 0.11 0.11 0.02
Coal – APC w/ CCS 5,912 2.5 0.41 0.12 0.82 0.33 0.29 0.0001
Coal – APC 5.6 7,622 2.2 0.37 0.11 3.70 0.30 0.26 0.0001
Biomass MSW 11.35 15,137 20.4 2.27 5.30 0.00
Biomass BFB 8.0 10,377 4.3 0.53 0.11 0.32

Coal APC – standard coal burning operations using advanced pollution control (APC) technology; currently in wide use
Coal CCS – coal plant using carbon capture & sequestration (CCS) technology; several demo projects underway, but not yet commercially viable
Biomass MSW (waste) – burns municipal solid waste
Biomass BFB (wood) – utilizes bubbling fluidized bed technology – typical biomass consists of wood chips, construction and demolition wood, bark, residual logging debris, saw dust, paper rejects, and paper and/or sewage sludge

Natural Gas Consumes Less Water and Requires a Smaller Footprint than Other Energy Sources

A natural gas plant compares favorably in terms of water use, requiring 310,443 gallons of water (per 1,000 MWH per year) and also in terms of land usage, with an average plant footprint between 20 to 40 acres. Here’s how other sources stack up:

Fuel type water use acreage requirements
Solar – PV Tracker n/a 9,000 acres (@9 acres per MW)
Natural Gas 310,443 gallons 20 to 40 acres
Geothermal 600,000 gallons varies considerably
Biomass BFB 720,000 gallons 30 to 40 acres
Coal – APC 720,000 gallons 200 to 250 acres
Coal – APC w/ CCS 720,000 gallons 400 acres
Biomass MSW 840,000 gallons 15-25 acres
Hydroelectric n/a varies considerably
Solar – PV n/a 7,000 acres (@7 acres per MW)
Wind (Onshore) n/a requires 50 acres of leased land per MW

See the Natural Gas: Smallest Footprint of All Energy Sources graphic for another perspective on land use requirements. (2016 UPDATE COMING SOON)

Natural Gas Plants Are Less Expensive to Build

A typical 400 MW natural gas plant costs $1.3 million per 1,000 households served (upfront capital cost), compared with other fuel sources serving the same number of users:

Natural Gas $1.3 million
Coal – APC $4.4 million
Geothermal $5.2 million
Biomass BFB $6.0 million
Wind (Onshore) $2.3 million
Hydoelectric $3.5 million
Advanced Nuclear $7.1 million
Coal – APC w/ CCS $6.1 million
Biomass MSW $10.0 million
Solar – Tracker PV $3.0 million
Solar – PV $3.2 million

Natural Gas is Competitive in Terms of Operating Costs

Combined annual fuel & operating costs for a typical 430 MW natural gas plant are $243,537 per 1,000 households served, compared with other fuel sources serving the same number of users:

Hydroelectric $16,956
Wind (Onshore) $47,460
Geothermal $120,000
Solar – PV $29,628
Advanced Nuclear $201,057
Solar – Tracker PV $80,712
Coal – APC $256,121
Natural Gas $243,537
Coal – APC w/ CCS $368,476
Biomass BFB $596,985
Biomass MSW $434,311

More findings and details on the assumptions underpinning these results can be found by category:

Fuel Comparison





Financial Assumptions


Comparison of Fuels Used for Electric Generation in the U.S., 2016 Update

Copyright 2016 – Natural Gas Supply Association –

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