May 14, 2020 - Energy & Environment

U.S. renewable energy on track to surpass coal in 2020

A wind farm in Iowa.
A wind farm in Iowa. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Renewable energy production in the United States is set to overtake coal in 2020 for the first time, according to new projections from the Energy Information Administration.

Why it matters: Coal was historically the dominant source of electricity for the country, and renewable energy's rise comes despite the Trump administration’s attempts to revive the coal industry by pollution and coal-burning power plant regulations, per the New York Times.

The big picture, via Axios' Ben Geman: The inflection point shows how the pandemic is accelerating trends underway for years in U.S. power markets as natural gas and increasingly low-cost renewables shove aside coal, once the nation’s dominant electricity source.

By the numbers: Because the coronavirus pandemic has depressed electricity demand and natural gas prices, coal plants are expected to produce only 19% of the nation’s electricity, declining by around 25%.

  • The EIA projects that renewable energy will grow around 11% and that overall electricity generation will fall by 5% this year.

Yes, but: The agency expects coal consumption to rebound by 10% in 2021 because of stronger natural gas prices and increased electricity demand.

  • It also noted that the projections are subject to a high degree of uncertainty because of the pandemic.

The bottom line: The agency also expects America’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to decrease by 11%, the largest drop in at least 70 years, according to NYT.

Go deeper: Coronavirus accelerates coal's decline

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