Renewables Generating More Energy Than Coal For The First Time In 130 Years


The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating the coal decline, which has significant implications for climate change.

According to The Guardian, solar, wind and other renewable energy sources “have toppled coal in energy generation in the United States for the first time in over 130 years.”

  • US government figures revealed that 2019 saw a “historic reversal” as annual energy consumption from renewable sources surpassed coal consumption for the first time since before 1885 — when wood was America’s primary energy source.
  • Coal consumption has fallen by 15 percent, while renewables increased by 1 percent.
  • The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasted that “renewables will eclipse coal as an electricity source,” and on May 21st, 2020, the year “hit its 100th day in which renewables have been used more heavily than coal,” wrote The Guardian.

“Coal is on the way out, we are seeing the end of coal,” said Dennis Wamsted, analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “We aren’t going to see a big resurgence in coal generation, the trend is pretty clear.”

  • The Guardian reported that the “ongoing collapse of coal would have been nearly unthinkable a decade ago, when the fuel source accounted for nearly half of America’s generated electricity. That proportion may fall to under 20 percent this year.”

The slump in coal generation has not been reversed, despite the efforts of the Trump administration.

  • The administration “dismantled a key Obama-era climate rule to reduce emissions from coal plants and eased requirements that prevent coal operations discharging mercury into the atmosphere and waste into streams,” the report continued.
  • These rollbacks came even as scientists warned that coal use “must be rapidly phased out” to “avoid the worst ravages of the climate crisis,” since coal releases more carbon dioxide than any other energy source, The Guardian wrote. Countries in the UK and Germany are in the process of “winding down their coal sectors, although in the US the industry still enjoys strong political support from Trump.”

Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated coal’s decline.

  • The coal sector was already facing many problems, mostly because of cheap, abundant gas that displaced coal as the go-to energy source.
  • The COVID-19 outbreak exacerbated this downward trend, as “plunging electricity demand followed the shutting of factories, offices and retailers,” The Guardian reported. As a result, “utilities have plenty of spare energy to choose from and coal is routinely the last to be picked because it is more expensive to run than gas, solar, wind or nuclear.”
  • In addition, since many US coal plants are very costly to operate, hundreds of them have closed over the last decade. This year, power companies announced plans to shut down 13 coal plants, including the Four Corners generating station in New Mexico, which was one of the largest carbon dioxide generators in the US.

The additional pressure of the pandemic “will likely shutter the US coal industry for good”, said Yuan-Sheng Yu, senior analyst at Lux Research. “It is becoming clear that Covid-19 will lead to a shake-up of the energy landscape and catalyze the energy transition, with investors eyeing new energy sector plays as we emerge from the pandemic.”

Climate campaigners and environmentalists have expressed excitement about coal’s decline, but in the US, the fuel is largely being replaced by gas, which “burns more cleanly than coal but still emits a sizable amount of carbon dioxide and methane, a powerful greenhouse gas,” The Guardian wrote.

“Getting past coal is a big first hurdle but the next round will be the gas industry,” Wamsted continued. “There are emissions from gas plants and they are significant. It’s certainly not over.”

Read the full report here.


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