Renewables Closing In On Coal In The US, Says IEEFA

Sign up for daily news updates from CleanTechnica on email. Or follow us on Google News!

Renewable energy is gaining rapidly on coal in the US, even beating out coal in some states, according to new figures from the country’s Energy Information Administration.

Analysis conducted by the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA) highlights the recent numbers, which showed the amount of electricity generated by hydro, wind, biomass, and geothermal sources together reached 19.2% of all power generation in the United States during March — the highest percentage since hydropower ruled the country’s power grid decades ago. Non-hydro renewables exceeded 10% of net US generation for the first time as well, with natural gas accounting for 34.1% of generation, and nuclear covering 21.8%.

Meanwhile, coal’s share of the country’s power generation dropped to 23.8%, “an unprecedented low in modern times,” according to IEEFA energy-data analyst Seth Feaster.


As seen above, Texas — which burned 80 million tonnes of coal in 2015, the most of any state in the US — saw renewables beat out coal for the first time. Specifically, coal’s share of electricity generation fell to 13.7%, while wind accounted for 17.2%, and 18% for renewables as a whole. “Where wind leads, solar may well follow,” adds Feaster. “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s grid, said last week that solar generation in Texas—the biggest electricity market in the U.S.—will soon overtake coal-fired generation.”

The IEEFA also highlighted the continuing declines in coal production and consumption. Accordingly, the US consumed 740 million tonnes of coal for electricity purposes in 2015, according to Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA’s director of finance. However, Platts coal-consumption data year-over-year through May shows that that figure is already down 8% — which, if the trend continues, could see America’s annual consumption drop into the high-600 million range.

Have a tip for CleanTechnica? Want to advertise? Want to suggest a guest for our CleanTech Talk podcast? Contact us here.

CleanTechnica Holiday Wish Book

Holiday Wish Book Cover

Click to download.

Our Latest EVObsession Video

I don't like paywalls. You don't like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it!! So, we've decided to completely nix paywalls here at CleanTechnica. But...
Like other media companies, we need reader support! If you support us, please chip in a bit monthly to help our team write, edit, and publish 15 cleantech stories a day!
Thank you!

CleanTechnica uses affiliate links. See our policy here.

Joshua S Hill

I'm a Christian, a nerd, a geek, and I believe that we're pretty quickly directing planet-Earth into hell in a handbasket! I also write for Fantasy Book Review (, and can be found writing articles for a variety of other sites. Check me out at for more.

Joshua S Hill has 4403 posts and counting. See all posts by Joshua S Hill

39 thoughts on “Renewables Closing In On Coal In The US, Says IEEFA

  • This showcases the cummulative effect of most renewables. Sometimes the advantage other then the obvious environmental one gets forgotten in conversations. Oil/gas/coal needs to be found/extructed/transported as soon as the source loacation is exhosted. All this just to keep up the currrent level of energy production. Renewables, minus some wear/tear/maintanance issues, are generally once installed – keep adding to the totals. It stands to reason ( those are my hopes anyway ) that eventually Wind/Solar/Hydro will completely displace the need for fossil fuels.

    • The other issue is that extraction keeps getting more expensive, while PV and Wind keep getting cheaper. Given these trends, some places are going to PV and wind just for the price stability.

      In a few years I expect storage to be cheaper than end-user grid rates, and will buffer rooftop solar in most locations. At that time, burning anything for electricity will make very little sense.

      • I’ve been trying to figure out the storage dynamic.

        I think most utilities are going to switch to “peak demand” charges, even for residential customers. At that point, storage will be cheaper than paying the peak rates, and everyone will put in storage to “peak-shave”. I don’t think the storage will actually be cheaper than grid for *electricity* (remember, we have stuff like Niagara Falls in the grid), only for peak demand charges.

        This will eliminate the need to upgrade transmission lines, by dropping everyone’s peak demand down to low levels. This will allow the utilities to keep T&D costs low, and they will do so in order to compete with self-generation. The utility dynamic will be “instead of installing a larger battery, we can sell you the excess solar power from rooftops on the other side of the county where it’s sunny when you have shade”, and I suspect they will be able to offer a decent deal on that for a long time.

      • “Given these trends, some places are going to PV and wind just for the price stability.”

        This is a very important point. PV and wind are helping to “shave” the top end of the demand curve from Nat Gas and in doing so – they are keeping Nat Gas prices down.(Price stability) This should continue – and it means the end of coal.

        Deployment of storage will also help with lowering Nat Gas demand and therefore it will also help keep Nat Gas prices down. For instance, in the medium-term I think storage will replace Nat Gas for most peaker demand. This gas can then be better deployed at CC plants to replace coal.

        Coal should be at or below 10% of production by 2030 – if not sooner.

        • I just found out (news to me) that California is now essentially coal free.

          “California’s total megawatt hours attributed to coal has dropped from 1 percent in 2007 to just two-tenths of one percent in 2015.

          And second, in an EIA report released last week, California saw a 96 percent decrease in electric power consumption by coal during the same time frame. That’s the steepest fall by percentage of any state.”

          • Bob,
            I live in CA and follow the numbers closely. Yes the in-state production of coal has essentially dropped to nothing. However, CA is still importing a decent amount of coal from New Mexico , Arizona and Utah.
            For example the municipal utility in LA (LADWP) uses most of the production of InterMountain – a huge coal plant in Utah.
            There are plans to eliminate all coal imports by 2025.The interesting thing about this is that it will actually lower coal production in states that are now exporting to CA.

          • OK, so the Union Tribune was talking about in-state generation, not overall consumption?

          • OK, less than 7% in 2014 with almost all coming from out of state. Looks like coal will be under 6% in 2016.

            Now it’s time to start cutting NG.

          • Exactly – already under way. I believe Nat Gas in CA – at least instate – peaked in 2013 and is headed down from here on out.

            Increased renewables are already creating issues for Nat Gas plants – just like what we are seeing for nuclear and coal in other states. Time to get some storage going – plus expansion of CAISO into other states is progressing nicely.

            CA goal of 50% renewables(2030) is looking too easy.

            Here is recent article on Nat Gas in CA –

          • We need to find more wind. Either extend the HVDC lines into Wyoming or get some floaters off the NorCal coast.

          • Thanks. Interesting read. I wish they had defined a few terms and gone a bit deeper in the grass.

        • If natgas prices go up, it will drive up renewables installations, pushing demand down. If they go up too much, air source heat pump installations might rise.

  • wonderful news! Now to bring the FUDsters up-to-speed on which of their arguments are still valid.

    • One of their favourite arguments was “solar power only makes up 1% of electricity production”.

  • “…solar generation in Texas—the biggest electricity market in the U.S.—will soon overtake coal-fired generation.”
    This is surprising as you don’t hear much about Texas and solar. Their impressive wind revolution cannot be denied by even the reddist of politicians.

    • Texas will be a huge solar market and the economics are now getting to the point to enable that. Lots of sun and lots of AC demand. Both utility scale and rooftop will be extremely compelling economic propositions in Texas.

      • I know they have the sun but wondered if they had the right policies to encourage PV. Apparently they do.

        • Policies likely need work – lot of bureaucracy and government red tape holding back market in many places.

        • The ISO in TX is ERCOT, one of the more progressive ISO’s for renewable energy, they really lead the way with Wind and the development of renewable production zones. They have been planning for Solar for some time now given the lower installed costs and are creating new policy. ERCOT brings a very measured engineering based approach. It may seem like they are moving slow but they are taking the time to layout a 10+ year plan so once it gets going the system can handle the new power production methods.

          Because ERCOT is mostly isolated from the rest of the country they spend a great deal of time planning prior to execution.

          Would like to see them expand the links to the Eastern and Western interconnects but they seem to hold back on that one still. There was the big plan to link in Clovis NM with Tres Amigo’s but that seems to have stalled due to finance issues.

          • I don’t think Texas has any choice but to interconnect. They already have to give away nighttime surplus wind power and that will only get worse with multiple new gigawatts under construction. It’s inconceivable that Texas is almost as progressive as California when it comes to power generation. But it’s all the other things…

          • I think texas is more progressive on renewable energy that works than California and I think the numbers back that up despite an excellent trend in California utility PV.

            California politics is more susceptible to regulatory capture and white elephants.
            Rooftop solar getting massive cross subsidy from ratepayers, Bloomdoggles, and continuing solar thermal when its obviously not economic compared to utility PV isnt progressive to me, it’s just crony capitalism.

          • I don’t know, wrt CSP: it can also be viewed as more forward-looking due to dispatchability. Too bad they have actually stopped supporting it now, so in a way got a raw deal (Ivanpah with no storage) and others benefit from their experience, building cheaper molten-salt/tower plants (Chile, South-Africa). Bids on CSP are of course speculative but I can’t see why anyone would think it would be crony capitalism: CSP hasn’t exactly been profitable for builders either (see Abengoa f.ex)

          • Here’s the latest data for the two states.


          • A whole lot of electric cars would help soak up some of that excess wind power overnight.

          • There’s less excess wind power than some suspect. And what there is is largely a transmission issue, look at ERCOT (Texas). If wind is being curtailed because there’s no way to get it to market then there’s no way to get it to EVs.


          • According to the chart there was a lot of curtailment through 2011. In 2012 it was cut in half and in 2013 cut again. The last year on the chart is 2014 and in that year curtailment was less than 1%. Looks to me like the transmission problem has been corrected.

          • MISO has a need to move some power at times.

            This is what those who dream of making hydrogen or synthetic fuel with “excess” electricity miss. Transmission can move any surplus to somewhere that can use it. Once we have enough transmission in place surplus from area A can be moved to area B where there might be hydro that can be held back or storage to fill.

          • Electrons are easier to move than molecules. To the extent that there is a need for hydrogen or synthfuels, I expect that the electric power will be transmitted to there, and the chemical extraction or synthesis done near the point of use. Think of a coastal airport with a jet fuel factory nearby and a short pipeline connecting the two.

    • That is RE in Texas, not just solar in Texas, a lot of that is wind.

  • Great charts and article. The steepness of the decline of coal is much greater than the climb of renewables. This difference is more natural gas. The gas could be good for renewables because it ramps up and down much more quickly than coal.

  • In Iowa last March, wind generation beat coal as well. Traditionally (back in the early 2000s) coal was making up around 80% of Iowa’s electricity generation.

    • Brilliant! Well done in ~15 years!
      It seems to me that we are hearing more and more stories like this from all over the planet 🙂

  • One thing missing from these charts. Not only is coal down substantially in Q1 of 2016 for Texas – from 27.9K GWh(2015Q1) to 19.2 GWh – Nat Gas is also down from 55.3k GWh(2015Q1) to 52.9K GWh.

    So most of the coal replacement is coming from wind – not Nat Gas. Not that is a very cool trend.

  • Just finished the graph below minutes before see this article. Coal will likely pop back up some during the summer but the overall trend is heading downward.

    EIA data through March 2016.


    • A twelve-month rolling average would show the trend nicely. You could include gas and nuclear as well. I think I saw a recent EIA graph like that somewhere in the last week or so.

      • In the article there’s an EIA monthly coal/renewables graph that goes back to 2005.

        NG has increased over the last few years but gas and coal combined have been losing market share to renewables. Nuclear has been roughly standing still.


  • I wish they would not just lump all the renewable sources together. I’ve been hearing some things that concern me in regards to biomass. Initially biomass was considered the garbage from cutting down trees (limbs and bark and such) but now the demand is so high that virgin trees are being cut down to supply enough wood for pellets for the generating stations (in particular exported to European countries). This is supposedly happening in both the US and Canada. Seems a step backwards to burn trees for energy!

Comments are closed.