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Expand chart
Data: Rhodium analysis of EIA data. Chart: Axios Visuals

The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating a years-long decline in coal-fired electricity.

The state of play: Weaker electricity demand and super-low natural gas prices, both driven by the pandemic, have prompted coal to drop to just 15% of the U.S. electricity mix for the first time in modern history, according to a new analysis of government data by consultancy Rhodium Group.

  • Rhodium analyzed hourly electricity data from the Energy Information Administration to conclude that wind and solar generated more electricity than coal for several days over the past week.
  • "That’s never happened before," said Trevor Houser, a partner at the firm.

Flashback: A decade ago, coal powered nearly 50% of America’s electricity, by far the largest share.

  • The one-two punch of cheap, cleaner-burning natural gas and tougher environmental regulations during the Obama administration pushed coal far from its traditional perch as America’s top power source.

Two factors are driving coal’s relative demise now compared to other power sources.

  • Existing wind and solar plants have fixed costs and no marginal cost, which means they "generally get priority" when deciding which types of plants to run, Houser said.
  • Natural gas prices are very low due to relatively warm weather and rock-bottom oil prices, which have also been driven lower by the pandemic. This means gas is beating out coal for whatever piece of the shrunken pie is left.
  • The chart above excludes natural gas, the largest source of electricity, because it’s stayed relatively constant in this time frame, as has hydropower and nuclear power.

What we’re watching: Is this a temporary blip downward for coal that will change once shutdowns are lessened or will this acceleration cement a permanent new low?

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Skripal poisoning suspects linked to Czech blast, as country expels 18 Russians

Combined images released by British police in 2018 of Alexander Petrov (L) and Ruslan Boshirov, who are suspected of carrying out an attack in the in the southern English city of Salisbury using Novichok, a military-grade nerve agent, and also the2014 Czech depot explosion. Photo: Metropolitan Police via Getty Images

Czech police on Saturday connected two Russian men suspected of carrying out a poisoning attack in Salisbury, England, with a deadly ammunition depot explosion southeast of the capital, Prague, per Reuters.

Driving the news: Czech officials announced Saturday they're expelling 18 Russian diplomats they accuse of being involved in the blast in Vrbětice, AP notes. Czech police said later they're searching for two men carrying several passports — including two named Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov.

Indianapolis mass shooting suspect legally bought 2 guns, police say

Marion County Forensic Services vehicles are parked at the site of a mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday. Photo: Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images

The suspected gunman in this week's mass shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis legally purchased two assault rifles believed to have been used in the attack, police said late Saturday.

Of note: The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's statement that Brandon Scott Hole, 19, bought the rifles last July and September comes a day after the FBI told news outlets that a "shotgun was seized" from the suspect in March 2020 after his mother raised concerns about his mental health.

U.S. and China agree to take joint climate action

US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry waves as he arrives at the Elysee Presidential Palace on March 10, 2021 in Paris. Photo: Chesnot/Getty Images

Despite an increasingly tense relationship, the U.S. and China agreed Saturday to work together to tackle global climate change, including by "raising ambition" for emissions cuts during the 2020s — a key goal of the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The joint communique released Saturday evening commits the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases to work together to keep the most ambitious temperature target contained in the Paris Climate Agreement viable by potentially taking additional emissions cuts prior to 2030.