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Power Density Primer: Understanding the Spatial Dimension of the Unfolding Transition to Renewable Electricity Generation (Part III – Natural Gas-Fired Electricity Generation)

By Vaclav Smil -- May 11, 2010

Editor’s note: This is Part III of a five part series that provides an essential basis for the understanding of energy transitions and use. The previous posts in this series can be seen at:

Part I – Definitions

Part II – Coal- and Wood-Fired Electricity Generation

Boilers of electricity-generating stations burning coal can be converted to burn liquid or gaseous hydrocarbons (fuel oil, even crude oil, and natural gas) and such conversions were fairly common during the 1960s and the early 1970s. Burning natural gas rather than coal has clear environmental advantages (it generates less, or no, sulfur dioxide and no fly ash) but the overall conversion efficiency of the boiler-steam turbogenerator unit changes little. In contrast, gas turbines, particularly when coupled with steam turbines, offer the most efficient way of electricity generation.…