Natural gas generation continues to increase despite a dip in total electricity generation amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest data from the Energy Information Administration.

EIA said natural gas-fired generation in the lower 48 states grew 9%, or by nearly 55,000 gigawatt-hours, in the first half of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019.

Recent low prices and added capacity helped make natural gas the fastest-growing source of electricity generation, federal energy officials said. Meanwhile, total electricity generation for the U.S. declined 5% amid reduced business activity during the pandemic.

An Aug. 5 EIA report noted that more than 100 coal-fired plants have been replaced by or converted to natural gas since 2011. At the end of 2010, 316.8 GW of coal-fired capacity existed in the U.S., and 49.2 GW was retired by the end of 2019.

“The decision for plants to switch from coal to natural gas was driven by stricter emission standards, low natural gas prices, and more efficient new natural gas turbine technology,” said the report.

EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, released Aug. 11, said the economic slowdown related to the pandemic continues to be a factor in changing patterns of energy supply and demand.

EIA is predicting drastic swings in coal consumption, with a decrease of 26% this year and an increase of 20% next year. Coal consumption at plants fell to 95 million short tons (MMst), its lowest point since April. And even with a seasonal peak of 127 MMst in the third quarter, levels will still be lower than 2019, according to the report.

EIA predicts demand for coal will rise in 2021 with economic improvement and rising natural gas prices. Coal production is expected to increase by 12% for a total annual production level of 564 MMst, the report said.