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Don’t Believe the (Natural Gas & Anti-Clean-Energy) Hype

Now, I think everyone knows that coal is going down. It’s too expensive. Especially if you take its health costs into account. But some (i.e. the US Energy Information Agency) don’t seem to have a clue as to how fast it is going out, and and many also don’t seem to have a clue what is going to replace it, or are trying to change the course of history through propaganda and lobbying (something like what Germany went through a decade ago, perhaps).

Coal’s Rapid (Yet Slow?) Decline

Coal power consumption in the US will this year reach its lowest level since 1996, according to new EIA estimates. But, somehow, despite coal’s share of energy generation in the US falling from 44% in 2010 to 42% in 2011 to a predicted 40% in 2012, the EIA’s annual energy outlook released in March predicts that coal will only fall to 39% by 2035. Why would coal not keep declining (more than 0.043% a year)? Natural gas and several sources of renewable energy are already cheaper and more flexible. The idea (or US EIA projection) that coal would only drop another percentage point in the next 23 years is absurd.

Change in US energy generation of different energy sources from 2010 to 2011, based on statistics from the US EIA presented below. (Figures in thousand MWh.) Source: CleanTechnica

Natural Gas Filling the Gap? Not Really..

Now, a lot of folks will tell you with complete conviction that it’s primarily natural gas replacing coal, due to natural gas’s (artificially) low price these days. A lot of people will tell you this. But guess what — in 2011, renewable energy increased its share of the energy generation pie much more than natural gas did. Here are some 2011 stats (again, actually from the EIA’s own March 2012 monthly report):

  • Coal decreased 113,025,000 MWH in 2011 (1,847,290K in 2010 to 1,724,265K in 2011)
  • Nuclear decreased 16,743,000 MWh in 2011 (806,968K in 2010 to 790,225K in 2011)
  • Natural gas increased 28,898,000 MWh in 2011 (987,697K in 2010 to 1,016,595K in 2011)
  • Renewable energy increased 92,791,000 MWh in 2011 (427,276K in 2010 to 520,067K in 2011)

In other words, more than 3 times as much renewable energy generation was added (net) compared to natural gas generation! (And remember, there are 3 reasons natural gas won’t be so cheap and competitive with clean energy for long.)

Now, to get even more absurd, this same report predicts that renewable energy will account for 16% of US energy generation in 2035… despite the country already being at 12.6% in 2011 and having an annual growth rate of over 20%. Crazy. Again, does this remind you of something?

Thanks to commenter RobS on this post for bringing up many of the points above.

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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.


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