Coal Power has been on a steady decline in American power plants since the mid-2000s but over the past couple of years, coal usage has absolutely fallen off of a cliff. In the past two years alone, it’s down about 21%.
As we can see below, coal still holds a lion’s share of America’s electricity production capacity, but the amount is shrinking quickly. Most of the share that coal loses is being picked up by natural gas. While natural gas is a cleaner and cheaper fuel source for power plants, it’s still a fossil fuel, but it is a step in the right direction.
Natural gas will probably keep growing thanks to very low prices and the ease of converting boilers and plants to run on gas from coal. Nuclear power will likely hold steady through the near term with a few reactors going offline but a few new ones coming online.
Renewable energy is growing significantly, especially in the wind sector, where the promise of off-shore wind farms in the very near future could see another explosion in growth. Since a large number of new wind projects came online in 2016, we actually saw wind capacity match hydro capacity (big difference between capacity and generation) for a time at the end of last year.
As we can see in my chart above, net wind generation dwarfs all other types of renewable energy generation outside of hydro power, which itself provided about five times the amount of electricity than all other renewables combined.
Since 2014, renewable energy (not including nuclear) has grown from about 11.4% to 12.6% of American’s total electricity generation. Solar and wind power together during that time grew about 21%. While we are definitely moving in the right direction, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Surprisingly, electricity output has dropped about 9% since 2007 and has been sliding downward every year since 2013. Advancements in efficiency, particularly in lighting and consumer electronics, as well as at-home electricity generation, have been causing electricity demand to decrease even as the population increases.