For the first time, the US relies less on coal as it did in the past, allowing other energy sources like natural gas and renewable sources take over. In other words, April made the cleanest power the United States has ever generated and the least coal it has burned in decades.
The news was published on a monthly report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration released Tuesday, indicating that renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric dams, solar panels, and wind turbines generated almost 68.5 million megawatt-hours of power in April, as compared to the 60 million that coal produced that month.
Notably, Natural Gas remains to be the top energy generator in the US at roughly around 102 million megawatt-hours.
Natural gas, also called fossil fuel, is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon gas mixture consisting primarily of methane, but commonly including varying amounts of other higher alkanes, and sometimes a small percentage of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen sulfide, or helium. The energy source only contributes a fraction of environmentally harmful byproducts than coal, making it a better alternative.
Furthermore, due to the fracking boom, natural gas is showing to be a more efficient and cost-friendly energy source than its predecessor, coal—over a decade ago it supplied energy for the US more than anything else.
Due to research and warnings, it has encouraged governments to take on a more environmentally friendly solution on how we source energy. That includes lessening our dependency on coal, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gasses that is directly proportional to increasing rates of global warming.
In 2010, the United States had 580 coal-fired power plants that provided 45% of the nation’s electricity. With environmental advances, the number dropped by March 2018 to around 350 with the coal’s market share dropping to 30%.
Coal’s drop can also be attributed to state efforts of pushing more energy suppliers to invest in a combination of renewable energy with cheap, reliable, and abundant natural gas.
Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest electric utility, said that it could save $213 million by retiring two of its older coal-fired units a decade ahead of schedule and replacing them with a mix of wind, solar, battery storage and natural gas, The New York Times reported.
“We built a lot of our coal fleet 40 years ago, and it’s costly to maintain,” said Joshua D. Rhodes, an energy expert at the University of Texas Austin. “Many utilities are now finding that there are plenty of lower-cost options.”
Particularly, advances in renewable energy sources have led to more wind turbines and solar panels across the country because it is so much cheaper to set up these utilities than ever before. According to EIA’s data, the trend will only go higher in proceeding years.
However, renewable sources still face the challenge that it is highly dependent on natural circumstances such fluctuating weather conditions for solar power when it cannot be used when the sun is out, or unmanageable terrains to set up wind turbines.
There were also reports indicating that President Donald Trump is actively working against coal’s decline by pulling back on environmental rules placed during the Obama administration.
Nevertheless, there is no other point in history that indicates that we need to invest in greener alternatives with our energy generation and consumption. Governments around the world are working on producing zero-net carbon by 2050 to prevent global temperatures from reaching critical situations.
In the US, 29 states have enacted laws that require their utilities to get a certain fraction of their power from wind and solar. Over the past year, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Washington have all passed laws aimed at getting 100 percent of their electricity from carbon-free sources by mid-century, which would eventually mean phasing out conventional gas plants, Time reports.
The recent news also comes after the United Kingdom’s success with zero-carbon energy sources powering the country so far in 2019, citing that zero-carbon sources accounted for 48% of its energy consumption where 24% of which came from solar, wind, hydro, and the like, while 18% came from nuclear plants. Impressively, coal only powered the country for 3%.
On the other hand, Bloomberg reported that the US coal energy generation may spike back up to being the second largest contributor because the decline was also due to spring maintenance and that demands also peak during the summer season.