Gas-fired power plants are not as reliable as grid planners believe, warns the Union of Concerned Scientists.

According to a recent report from the Union, Gas plants are particularly susceptible to extreme weather conditions and temperatures which could represent a significant vulnerability for the electric grid.

gas power plant
– Getty Images

“The energy system’s overreliance on gas is problematic for many reasons,” said UCS senior energy analyst and report co-author Mark Specht. “Our analysis found that gas plants were disproportionately vulnerable to failure.”

According to the report, Gas plants provide around 40 percent of the US' electricity generation per year and 43 percent of its generating capacity. During the 2022 winter Storm Elliot, however, Gas plants accounted for 63 percent of power forced offline by severe weather. This was followed by 23 percent coal and lignite, oil at 4 percent, wind at 4 percent, and nuclear, solar, and hydroelectric at 1 percent each.

The same applied to Storm Uri - 56 percent was related to gas power plants. 250 people died in Texas alone during that storm.

The report found that the majority of issues occur in winter due to freezing equipment impacting valves, water lines, inlet air systems, and sensing lines. Summer conditions can also be detrimental, however, with high temperatures reducing “both the efficiency and the maximum generating capacity of gas plants,” and droughts causing problems for water-cooled plants.

The report recommends some weatherization investment for gas plants, as well as increasing oversight and establishing reliability rules, but in general suggests that major investment efforts should go towards other energy sources, renewables in particular.

Data centers running on gas plants are becoming more popular. In November 2023, Hut 8 announced plans to acquire several gas power plants and use them to mine cryptocurrency. AWS was looking at a similar solution in Oregon in February 2023.

Across the pond in Ireland, Dublin has received an influx of applications for gas-powered data centers in the face of EirGrid's de facto moratorium. Among those approved is a 170MW Microsoft development.