Coal-Fired Electricity Generation Falls Behind Renewables

Katie Ramirez
June 30, 2019

One of the main reasons coal-fired power plants produced so little in April was because some were down for routine, springtime maintenance.

The United States generated more energy from renewable sources than from coal for the first time in April, the Energy Information Administration said. That's the most clean power the USA has ever made - and the least coal it has burned for power in years.

According to EIA's latest Short-Term Energy Outlook, coal is expected to provide more electricity generation than renewables in the United States for the rest of 2019.

Even in the USA, where President Donald Trump has promised to bring back coal, 50 such plants have closed since the last presidential election.

The accomplishment has some counting down the years till coal is a factor of the past. A recent report, published just after April, noted that in the past three years alone, the number of coal-fired power plants being developed around the world has plummeted. Nonetheless, the month of April was marked by some uncommon events which helped set the stage for this major milestone.

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Throughout the month of April, Bloomberg reviews that coal's numbers have been truly down partially as a result of a number of coal plants had been being serviced. Considering that as recently as the year 2000, coal-fired generation accounted for a peak of 52 percent of the nation's power supply (PDF) that's quite a dramatic turnaround.

Coal power generation cycles seasonally because temperatures moderate over much of the country in the spring and fall, reducing the power generation needed for air conditioning and heating. The overabundance of cheap natural gas has also hurt the economics of coal demand as power plants switch to cheaper alternatives. In 2018, about 15 GW of wind and solar generating capacity came online.

Wind generation posted a monthly record of 30.2 million MWh in April, while utility-scale solar generation totaled almost 7 million MWh, short of the record-high 7.8 million MWh posted in June of a year ago. In 2018, coal only provided 27.5 percent of the USA electricity supply over the whole year.

And if fossil fuels were priced in a way that reflects the environmental and health costs they produce, a recent report from the International Monetary Fund has found that carbon dioxide emissions would have been 28 percent lower, which would free-up about US$3 trillion for governments to spend in other ways. The agency also expects renewable generation to surpass nuclear power next year.

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