Renewables Closing in on Coal in US

June 8, 2016


I  reported recently that in May, electric generation from solar power out performed coal in the UK, birthplace of the fossil fueled industrial revolution.

Same process happening in the US.


Renewable energy is gaining rapidly on coal in the US, even beating out coal in some states, according to new figures from the country’s Energy Information Administration.

Analysis conducted by the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA) highlights the recent numbers, which showed the amount of electricity generated by hydro, wind, biomass, and geothermal sources together reached 19.2% of all power generation in the United States during March — the highest percentage since hydropower ruled the country’s power grid decades ago. Non-hydro renewables exceeded 10% of net US generation for the first time as well, with natural gas accounting for 34.1% of generation, and nuclear covering 21.8%.
supportdarksnowMeanwhile, coal’s share of the country’s power generation dropped to 23.8%, “an unprecedented low in modern times,” according to IEEFA energy-data analyst Seth Feaster.(above)

As seen above, Texas — which burned 80 million tonnes of coal in 2015, the most of any state in the US — saw renewables beat out coal for the first time. Specifically, coal’s share of electricity generation fell to 13.7%, while wind accounted for 17.2%, and 18% for renewables as a whole. “Where wind leads, solar may well follow,” adds Feaster. “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s grid, said last week that solar generation in Texas—the biggest electricity market in the U.S.—will soon overtake coal-fired generation.”

The IEEFA also highlighted the continuing declines in coal production and consumption. Accordingly, the US consumed 740 million tonnes of coal for electricity purposes in 2015, according to Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA’s director of finance. However, Platts coal-consumption data year-over-year through May shows that that figure is already down 8% — which, if the trend continues, could see America’s annual consumption drop into the high-600 million range.

I’ll be in Texas next week to look into this and other stories – stay tuned.



3 Responses to “Renewables Closing in on Coal in US”

  1. lracine Says:

    “Real hope, if it is to arise at all, will do so from a bare assessment of the scale of the challenge we now face….”

    I think this needs to be put into prospective… a picture or graph says a thousand words…

    EIA, net generation for all sectors monthly.. scale in 1000 of Megawatts Hours..,0,1&fuel=vtvv&geo=g&sec=g&linechart=ELEC.GEN.ALL-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.COW-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.NG-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.NUC-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.HYC-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.WND-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.TSN-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.DPV-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.SUN-US-99.M&columnchart=ELEC.GEN.ALL-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.COW-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.NG-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.NUC-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.HYC-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.WND-US-99.M&map=ELEC.GEN.ALL-US-99.M&freq=M&start=200101&end=201603&chartindexed=0&ctype=linechart&ltype=pin&rtype=s&maptype=0&rse=0&pin=

    Renewables are the bottom couple of lines on the chart…. just above to zero axis…..

    However, look at the same data, except instead of actual generation (MwH) the data is Index to Start (Jan 2001) as a Percent… similar to the graph in above..,0,1&fuel=vtvv&geo=g&sec=g&linechart=ELEC.GEN.ALL-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.COW-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.NG-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.NUC-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.HYC-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.WND-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.TSN-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.DPV-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.SUN-US-99.M&columnchart=ELEC.GEN.ALL-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.COW-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.NG-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.NUC-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.HYC-US-99.M~ELEC.GEN.WND-US-99.M&map=ELEC.GEN.ALL-US-99.M&freq=M&start=200101&end=201603&chartindexed=1&ctype=linechart&ltype=pin&rtype=s&pin=&rse=0&maptype=0

    So while there has been a HUGE growth in Utility Scale Solar and Wind…. it is still a drop in the bucket compared to total generation of fossil fuels.. most of the decline in coal generation has been picked up by natural gas (the green line in the first chart).

    The CO2 emissions reduction need to meet COP21, are estimated to be a annual net 10% CO2 emission reduction per year by the OECD countries (that means the US of A) for the foreseeable future, STARTING NOW!!!!, (citing approx numbers from Kevin Anderson and Hensen and other have thrown out similar numbers)

    This ain’t cutting it… and we are running out of time…..

    At this point in time… renewable energy can not be scaled up fast enough to replace FF for current electrical generation, estimated to account for 30% of total green house gas emissions… what are we going to do about the remaining 70% green house gas emissions…. what substitutes do we have for gasoline, diesel, plastic products etc etc.

    At best, if we applied a “a no holds barred” “war time effort” to drastically ramp up renewable electrical generation (LOOK AT THE FIRST CHART!!!), it will keep the “critical infrastructure” running…. but don’t fool yourself, the world and society as “we know it today” will exist no more… our current USA lifestyles will be a thing of the past.

    We will be lucky to be able to feed our own population much less deal with the loss of critical infrastructure/internal climate refugees (think Miami) from the temp rise already “baked into the cake”…

    Every time I read these types of posts I shake my head.. it is obvious that you have the “good brain” and the ability to think critically… how can you possibly reach the conclusion implied above that “renewables” are going to address this massive issue.

    Renewables are the “proverbial drop in the bucket”…. and yes something is better than nothing.. but we can do better than this!

    We have to.

    • lracine Says:

      I am in the process of reading “Panic at the Pump: The Energy Crisis and the Transformation of American Politics in the 1970s “. I lived thru and remember the social unrest that resulted, from the post peaking of the US oil production and the embargo from OPEC on the balance of oil we had to import to make-up for our declining production. I remember the riots and the lines……

      What kind of social unrest will result in our society, from the drastic reduction of CO2 emissions and the necessary serious curtailment of fossil fuel burning? Just how are we going to “deal with” our woefully unprepared and uneducated population???? Think telling Donald Trump he can’t use his corporate jet anymore……. he cannot build anymore golf courses, etc etc… this is not going to be well received to say the least.

      How about National Security and the Implication of Climate Change??? ( A frightening subject) Here is the link to an excellent lecture by General Gordon Sullivan at Norwich University…

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