A new US renewable energy milestone has been reached.
In April, the volume of renewable electricity generated in the US surpassed the level of energy produced from coal for the first time. According to Department of Energy data, this trend is expected to continue in May.
Coal has been dethroned for the first time in US history.
Since the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century, energy produced from coal has been the large source of electricity generation in the United States. It wasn’t until last month that this fossil fuel finally lost its over century-long crown.
A study from the Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), examined figures from the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). The research revealed that renewable electricity sources, such as solar energy, wind energy, hydroelectricity, etc, were on track to generate more power than coal in April for the first time in US history.
PV Magazine reports that according to the analysis predictions, renewable sources would generate 2.32 TWh (terawatt hours) of output in April and produce an additional 2.27 TWh in May. Both of these figures are ahead of coal which is expected to produce 2 TWh in April and 2.24 TWh in May.
The sudden surge in renewable electricity is credited to hydropower benefiting from spring weather.
It is typical for renewable power production to rise in spring. This is because hydropower gets a boost from swelling rivers and snow melt. Additionally, IEEFA notes that spring is also the time of year when many coal plants close for maintenance due to the surge in hydroelectricity generation as power prices tend to be at their lowest and these coal-fired plants are less likely to be needed.
However, beyond that, coal is no longer relied upon in the US as it once was. According to the EIA, coal made up only 27% of US electricity generation in 2018, a notable drop from 39% in 2014. This decrease is attributed to abundant and low-cost natural gas resulting from increased hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
That being said, both wind and solar capacity have also been expanding rapidly across the country. Combined, wind and solar made up 9% of US electricity generation in 2018.
The trend of reduced coal power and more renewable electricity is likely to increase on a national scale as ageing coal plants are being retired all the time. The EIA forecasts that 7 GW (gigawatts) of coal plant capacity will go offline by the end of 2020. Additionally, an Energy Innovation analysis shows that in 74% of cases, it costs less to construct new solar and wind facilities than to keep running coal plants.