Energy Revolution: Coal Already Lost the War With Renewables

published on 27 Apr 2017
Despite U.S. President Donald Trump's best efforts to bring coal back from the dead, the harsh truth that's starting to emerge is that there's no place for coal, or other fossil fuels, in the future of energy production. These days, the U.S. is the only developed nation unwilling to ride the renewable wave, while the likes of Germany, the U.K., China and France are all accelerating their shift to clean energy. 

While oil and natural gas seem to be safe for now, king coal is not coming back as the prices for renewable energy continue to drop. In 2016, renewables crossed another milestone in their race to revolutionize global energy as clean energy installations reached new records while wind and solar attracted twice as many investments as fossil fuels, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Global funding for renewables crossed $200 billion last year, compared with about $100 billion for fossil fuels. Between 2006 and 2016, renewables' share of global power generation skyrocketed, with Spain (30%), Germany (29%), the U.K. (25%), Italy (25%) and Brazil (18%) leading the way. 

Despite the current administration's change of approach to energy, the U.S. has also seen renewable power generation jump from 3 percent to 9 percent from 2006 to 2016, fueled by Vermont (17% to 100%), Maine (38% to 54%), Idaho (20% to 47%), Iowa (5% to 39%), California (14% to 30%) and South Dakota (2% to 30%). Not to mention that technological advances and innovation have made the energy industry as a whole a lot more efficient, leading to improved productivity, improved fuel economy, better batteries, fewer emissions and lower costs.

All this serves as evidence that renewables are the future, but let's also take a look at the picture from the coal industry's perspective: power generation from coal is in free fall, down from 2,000 terawatt-hours per year in 2007 to 1,250 terawatt-hours per year in 2015, partly because of the emergence of cheap natural gas, which rose from less than 1,000 TWh/year in 2007 to almost 1,500 TWh/year in 2015. As a result, more and more coal plants are being put out of service, but without too many jobs being lost because more efficient machines and mining equipment had long started to replace humans in the industry. The number of coal jobs in the U.S. dropped from 600,000 in 1931 to just about 100,000 in 2015 due to technological advances, while productivity jumped twelvefold. 

Sill think there's no way renewables can kill fossil fuels? Maybe they won't fade completely, but one thing's for sure: clean energy is the future.