Published on July 1st, 2019 | by Steve Hanley0
Renewables Outpaced Coal In US For First Time In April
July 1st, 2019 by Steve Hanley
CleanTechnica is a little late with this story, but as the old expression goes, “Better late than never. (Almost no one knows the rest of that famous adage is “But better never late.) So here’s the news. According to the Energy Information Administration, in April renewables accounted for 23% of the total supply of electricity in the United States while the amount from coal was only 20%. The IEA defines renewables as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass.
There are a few caveats that go with this happy news. Springtime is when renewables typically perform well. Snow melt puts more water into lakes and rivers which means more hydro power is available. Lengthening days mean more sunlight and blustery winds are common. In addition, says ArsTechnica, moderate temperatures mean lower demand for heating and cooling which translates into less demand for electricity overall. In fact, many coal-fired facilities are shut down in the spring for routine maintenance while overall grid demand is low.
According to the EIA, more than 15 gigawatts of wind and solar power were added to the US national grid in 2018, making it possible for a situation to arise in which “record generation from wind and near-record generation from solar contributed to the overall rise in renewable electricity generation this spring.” In April, wind generation across the US provided 30.2 million megawatt-hours of electricity, a record amount.
Even though renewables made a strong showing in April, there is every reason to believe that coal may surge ahead again as the demand for air conditioning increases in the summer months. Still, in 2000 coal accounted for 52% of the nation’s electricity. In 2018, that number was down to 27.5%. “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” as Bob Zimmerman told us way back when.
Here is the takeaway from ArsTechnica. “Coal’s demise has many environmental benefits, including reductions in particulate and sulfur oxides pollution as well as better health for those who once lived near coal plants. But fewer coal plants have not been translating to reductions in carbon dioxide emissions in the US. In fact, the boom in new natural gas plants around the country has more than made up for coal retirements in terms of carbon dioxide emissions. If we’re going to take on climate change in an expeditious manner, cheap natural gas will have to be the next target.”
Indeed. But if the latest news from Los Angeles about a 25-year PPA for solar power priced below 2 cents per kWh is any indication, even cheap natural gas will not be able to compete with renewables for very much longer, which is good news for the Earth and every living thing on it.