“Five years ago this never would have been close to happening,” says Dennis Wamstead, a research analyst.
Electricity from renewable sources surpassed power generated by the burning of coal in the United States for the first time ever in April, according to a report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.
Last month the country’s renewable energy sector, which comprises hydropower, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal energy, generated more electricity than coal-fired plants.
Estimates by the Energy Information Administration projected renewable outputs of 2,322 and 2,271 thousand megawatt-hours per day for April and May, respectively. Those figures would exceed the expected output of 1,997 and 2,239 thousand MWh/day from coal during those months.
Renewables are clearly in the ascendant in the U.S. Yet that does not mean that they will take over from coal entirely in coming years, the IEEFA cautions. “To be fair, there are seasonal considerations,” the agency says. “Of particular note, is the long-held practice of taking coal plants offline during the lower demand periods of the spring (and fall) to perform maintenance and upgrades to ensure that they are ready for the higher demand of the summer and winter seasons. In addition, spring tends to be peak time for hydro generation.”
Still, coal, which is a highly pollutive energy source, is losing ground to natural gas and renewables in the world’s largest economy. Even a few years ago it would have been inconceivable for renewables to overtake coal for any length of time, but now they have done just that.
“Five years ago this never would have been close to happening,” Dennis Wamstead, a research analyst at IEEFA, explains. “The transition that’s going on in the electric sector in the United States has been phenomenal.”
Increased investments in renewables are transforming the energy sector in the U.S. by making renewable technologies cheaper, more advanced and more widespread. In coming years renewables are expected to exceed outputs occasionally from coal, whose share in energy generation has been falling.
In 2010 coal accounted for a share of 45% in total energy generation in the U.S. By last year it had fallen to 28% and it is expected to fall further still, to 24%, next year.