Despite Trump, US coal and gas generation down—renewables up

solar panels rooftop
CC BY-SA 2.0 h080

We might not quite be hitting European levels of renewables generation yet, but it appears that coal and gas are in trouble over on this side of the pond too.

Despite a high profile promise to end the war on coal, official data from the US Energy Information Administration reveals that renewables were up and fossil fuels were down last year.

generation by type chartEIA /Public Domain

Specifically, natural gas generation was down 7.7% and coal was down by 2.5%. Coal did, admittedly, level out somewhat in terms of decline, but if I were a coal miner I wouldn't be relying on that leveling out to continue. Coal also accounted for 6.3 gigawatts of retired capacity last year, more than half the total of all retired capacity, at the same time as literally no new coal plants were added to the mix for the first time in over a decade.

capacity additions and retirements chartEIA /Public Domain

Meanwhile, renewables were up—with 6.3 GW of wind turbines and 4.7 GW of utility-scale solar photovoltaic systems added during the year, much of it toward the end of 2017. This late addition to the mix should mean that wind—which made up 6.3% of overall generation—and utility scale solar—which made up 1.3%—should grow even further in terms of actual generation next year.

renewables generation capacity additions chartEIA /Public Domain

Perhaps most encouragingly, overall generation was down 1.5%, matching other evidence that flat-lining demand is leaving fossil fuels little room to grow, and that renewables are eating up a larger portion of an actually decreasing pie.

It is true that we are nowhere near where we need to be. And there's little doubt that actions in DC are delaying progress and will cost us dearly. But once more, we're seeing signs that the direction of travel is set.

Now we just need to pick up the pace. Central to Europe's renewable surge has been a massive increase in large-scale, offshore wind energy. It will be interesting to see how US numbers change as states get serious about offshore wind.

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