Renewables Outproduced Coal Power in the U.S. for the First Time

For the first time in this country’s history, renewables generated more electricity than coal.

Last month, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro actually outpaced coal generation, per data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and an analysis by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. That's never happened before. It's a landmark moment for renewables; no one can say that they can't compete with traditional fossil fuel energy sources anymore.

How did we reach this point? Well, part of the answer is timing. It’s springtime in the U.S, which means hydro power is peaking thanks to all the melting snow. At the same time, many coal plants around the country are shutting down for maintenance and upgrades. Renewables won’t outcompete coal all year round, at least not yet.

But this record was also, in large part, because renewables have been getting cheaper and more powerful for years. Decades of innovation have gone into every wind turbine and solar panel in this country, and these energy sources have been getting exponentially cheaper.

At the same time, coal is increasingly unprofitable for utilities. Most coal plants in this country are nearing the end of their expected lifespans, so maintenance costs are skyrocketing. The cost of coal itself has stagnatedover the past decade, so there’s very little room to actually make money.

Recently, a series of analyses have found that for many regions in the U.S, it’s actually cheaper to close down an existing coal plant and build a renewable plant in its place than to continue operating the coal plant. And in some parts of the country, that’s exactly what’s happening. Dozens of coal plants have closed over the past few years, and the U.S. is adding new solar and wind capacity at a record pace.

So while renewables will only outpace coal for a few months in 2019, eventually this will happen every month. Soon, renewables will be outcompeting every other energy source, and they will become the only energy source in a few decades.