In a remarkable sign of the shifting fortunes of dirty energy and clean energy, more renewable power was generated in April than coal power — something that’s never happened before in the United States.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) announced Wednesday that, in April, “U.S. monthly electricity generation from renewable sources exceeded coal-fired generation for the first time.”
While coal provided 20% of U.S. power in April, renewables — which include utility-scale hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass — provided 23% of total generation.
Renewables power surpassed coal power in April. CREDIT: EIA.
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. During those seasons, coal generation drops, and some plants are shut down for maintenance.
This seasonal drop in coal power is on top of the steady decline of coal, which has been increasingly unable to compete economically with cheap natural gas and ever-cheaper renewables.
In fact, the EIA reports that U.S. wind power hit a record monthly high in April. And solar will almost certainly hit a record monthly high sometime this summer.
The country continues adding both solar and wind generation at a very strong pace. So, when will annual renewable electricity generation surpass annual coal generation? The EIA projects out to only 2020 in its latest “Short-Term Energy Outlook” (STEO).
US electrical generation from selected sources (2005-2020). CREDIT: EIA STEO.
The EIA expects coal will out-generate renewables in 2019 and 2020 — though it projects renewables will top nuclear next year for the first time ever.
Renewables will likely top coal in the next decade, but the exact timing will depend on who the president is in 2021. President Donald Trump is trying to hold on to the dirty energy sources of the past, while all the Democrats running have promised to speed up the switch to clean energy in order to protect public health and avoid catastrophic climate change.