Unless you were born before Hawai’i and Alaska became states, chances are you probably can’t even remember a time when homes were heated by coal. Despite a lack of domestic use of coal in U.S. homes today, renewable energy only just recently surpassed energy derived from the burning of coal for the first time ever in April of 2019.
This may come as a shock to the Prius drivers and homeowners boasting solar panels. However, the reality of electricity production in the United States is that energy from coal is still hanging around. This is a real problem. Coal is even more destructive to our planet than other popularly condemned fossil fuels like natural gas. Here’s why coal is crumbling under the pressure it faces from sustainable sources of electricity production.
Per the U.S. Energy Information Administration, renewable resources accounted for 23% of the United States’ electric generation in April. This percentage exceeds coal’s production of only 20%. Both wind and solar energy reached a record monthly high with a seasonal boost from the hydroelectric sector to mark this historic milestone in renewable energy. A decade ago, the idea that renewable energy would become a leader in electricity generation would have been unheard of while the coal industry thrived. So, why is sustainable energy the coolest new fad sweeping the nation?
The primary reasoning for this uptick in renewable energy rests in the fact that it’s increasingly becoming cheaper. For example, hydroelectric power exists as the cheapest form of sustainable generation at only five cents per kilowatt hour. By contrast, coal and other fossil fuels typically fall between $0.05 and $0.17 per kilowatt hour. Forbes reports that this drastic reduction in the costs of more sustainable fuel alternatives results from expenses of building the plants necessary to produce these types of power falling by 11-26%, depending on the specific type of production. While electricity generation in the United States is getting a face lift, the coal industry is finding itself aging out of the American production industry.
CNN reports that the average coal plant only lasts about 40-60 years before it becomes obsolete; the average coal-burning establishment in the United States today is about 40 years old. That means that coal plants all over the country are basically on their deathbed. So, just as healthcare becomes more expensive as humans age, maintenance in coal plants begins to cost more the longer the plant has been in use. Costs associated with maintaining these plants as they age adds to the costs of production and makes renewable energy even more appealing as their respective costs continue to shrink.
In addition to the economic advantages of ditching coal for more sustainable practices, companies are beginning to recognize the environmental benefits of harvesting renewable energy. The result? More are choosing to invest in these energy production types for environmentally empathetic reasons, too. Thanks, 2019!
The future for renewable energy shines brighter than the coal that burned in our grandparents’ family homes. The cost battle between coal and renewable energy will likely spar back and forth before the final decision is out. It appears, though, that by 2020 sustainable power will come out on top. Recycle, plant a tree, and cheer on the future of sustainably sourced electricity for years to come.