U.S. Renewable Energy Consumption Beats Coal For First Time In 130 Years

The rise of renewables and declining coal electricity generation resulted in energy consumption from renewables in the United States surpassing in 2019 coal consumption for the first time since 1885, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Thursday.

Last year, total U.S. renewable energy consumption increased by 1 percent compared to 2018, while coal consumption slumped by almost 15 percent year on year, the EIA said in its Monthly Energy Review.

The rise of renewable energy sources, especially wind and solar power, marked a historic milestone for energy consumption in the United States last year: for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, renewable energy sources overtook coal as source of energy.

In 2019, energy consumption from coal dropped for a sixth year in a row, to its lowest level since 1964, according to EIA’s estimates using a fossil fuel equivalence to calculate electricity consumption of non-combustible renewables such as wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal energy. Due to rising natural gas production and increased natural gas-powered generation, coal-fired electricity generation capacity continues to retire in the U.S. Following coal capacity retirements, electricity generation from coal has dropped significantly over the past decade to the point of reaching its lowest level in 42 years in 2019.

At the same time, renewable energy consumption in the U.S. increased last year for a fourth consecutive year to a record-high of 11.5 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu)—EIA’s common units of heat. Over the past five years, the rise in U.S. renewable energy was almost entirely due to the growing wind and solar electricity generation, the EIA said. Last year, wind power generation overtook hydropower for the first time ever to become the most-used source of renewable energy for electricity generation in the United States on an annual basis.

The recent trends in U.S. electricity generation continue into 2020—hydropower plants, solar farms, and wind farms generated more electricity than coal in the United States for a record 40 days in a row, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said in a report earlier this month.

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