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US power output from renewables exceeds coal for the first time in history

US power output from renewables exceeds coal for the first time in history


Natural gas is taking over

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coal plant - Arnold Paul / wikimedia commons
Image: Arnold Paul / WikiMedia commons

For the first time, the United States produced more energy from renewable sources than from coal, according to new figures from the US Energy Information Administration. Hydroelectric dams, solar panels, and wind turbines generated 68.5 million megawatt-hours of energy during the month of April 2019, compared to 60 million for coal. 

A couple of different trends converged to make this milestone possible, some long-term, and some short-term. Over the long term, as Bloomberg notes, the country has been shifting toward natural gas, which is not only cheaper than coal, but it also emits less carbon dioxide (although it’s still a fossil fuel). Wind and solar farms are also springing up nationwide because they’ve become so cheap to build.

Short- and long-term trends converged to make it happen

However, there were also a couple of short-term trends in April that allowed renewables to overtake coal, meaning it’s not a permanent shift. A number of coal plants were down for routine maintenance in April, and The Guardian reports that the month also saw a combined increase in wind generation and a drop in energy demand. Coal could take the upper hand again when coal-fired plants resume normal operations.

Still, the overall trend suggests that, despite the Trump administration’s attempt to “end the war on coal,” the fuel’s slow fade into obscurity continues in the US. Fifty coal power plants have shut down during Trump’s presidency so far, and more are likely to follow as states increasingly pledge to phase out fossil fuels or shift toward gas.