US Energy Reversal

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

Renewables surpass coal in US energy generation for first time in 130 years. ‘We are seeing the end of coal,’ says analyst as energy source with biggest impact on climate crisis falls for sixth year in a row.


Solar, wind and other renewable sources have toppled coal in energy generation in the United States for the first time in over 130 years, with the coronavirus pandemic accelerating a decline in coal that will have a hugely positive impact for our climate, as coal releases more planet-warming carbon dioxide than any other energy source.


Not since felling trees was the main source of American energy in the 19th century has a renewable resource been used more heavily than coal, but 2019 saw a historic reversal, according to US government figures released by the US Energy Information Administration.


Coal consumption fell by 15%, down for the sixth year in a row, while renewables edged up by 1%. Meaning that renewables surpassed coal for the first time since at least 1885, a year when Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and America’s first skyscraper was erected in Chicago.


Electricity generation from coal fell to its lowest level in 42 years in 2019, with the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasting that renewables will eclipse coal as an electricity source this year. On 21 May, the year hit its 100th day in which renewables have been used more heavily than coal.


“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.”


This would have been nearly unthinkable a decade ago, when coal accounted for nearly half of America’s generated electricity. The proportion may decline to under 20% this year, with analysts predicting a further halving within the coming decade.


Fortunately, this rapid slump has not been reversed by the efforts of the Trump administration, which has dismantled a key Barack Obama-era climate rule to reduce emissions from coal plants. Hopefully, Trump's replacement will re-establish some common sense rules, as nobody expects the current President to re-consider his position on the subject.


Across the pond in Europe, several countries have already completely weaned themselves off coal, as OGN Daily reported last month in The End of King Coal.


“Coal is now in terminal decline all across Europe,” says Kathrin Gutmann, campaign director of the Europe Beyond Coal campaign. Europe Beyond Coal, a U.K.-based environmental lobby group funded in part by the European Climate Foundation, was established in 2017 with the goal of helping phase out coal across Europe by 2030 at the latest. The group says other countries are expected to follow through on their promises to eliminate coal power even earlier, including France by 2022, Slovakia and Portugal by 2023, the U.K. by 2023, and Ireland and Italy by 2025.