U.S. coal energy technology plunged by 30 % within the first half of 2020 off an already-depressed base, shoved out by pure gasoline and renewables amid low power costs linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, in line with new figures from the Power Info Administration.

Since its peak in 2007, U.S. coal consumption has been on the decline. However its fall has been getting steeper, and 2020 seems set to be a traditionally horrible 12 months for the sector.

Electrical energy technology accounts for greater than 90 % of U.S. coal consumption. In 2019, coal technology fell to a 42-year low, dropping by a document 16 %. That document low doesn’t seem like it would final for lengthy.

Renewable electrical energy output rose 5 % within the first half of 2020 and pure gasoline technology surged by 9 %, the EIA says, with gas-fired technology hitting a document U.S. excessive on July 28 throughout the typical summertime peak.

Pure gasoline was already the main supply of U.S. energy technology by far, with a 38 % share in 2019, adopted by coal (23 %), nuclear (20 %) and renewables (17 %). The EIA’s renewables tally sometimes doesn’t embody behind-the-meter methods like rooftop photo voltaic, a quickly rising market in lots of components of the nation.

Whereas coal energy’s slide helps to cut back carbon emissions, the explanations for its fall are largely tied to a different issue: cash. With common month-to-month Henry Hub pure gasoline spot costs down greater than 25 % within the first half of the 12 months, to $1.81 per MMBtu, and greater than 180 gigawatts of wind and photo voltaic crops now on-line throughout the nation, coal crops have merely develop into “uneconomical in most areas,” the EIA says.

Because the starting of 2018, the U.S. added 18 gigawatts of recent combined-cycle pure gasoline crops whereas closing 31 gigawatts of coal energy stations and a couple of.four gigawatts of nuclear capability.

Coal-to-gas switching has been most pronounced on the grids overseen by the PJM Interconnection and the Midcontinent Impartial System Operator (MISO) — areas the place gasoline costs are notably low cost.

Whereas low-cost pure gasoline is probably the most fast risk for coal energy turbines and their gasoline suppliers, renewable power is changing into a extra critical competitor in components of the nation, notably the ERCOT grid in Texas. In ERCOT, many of the decline in coal technology in 2020 has been changed by renewables moderately than gasoline, the EIA says.

Whereas gasoline crops stay the go-to choice for a lot of American utilities, there are rising questions on their long-term viability as extra states embrace formidable decarbonization mandates and extra utilities undertake net-zero targets.

Final month Dominion Power and Duke Power, two main U.S. investor-owned utilities, deserted their controversial multi-billion-dollar Atlantic Coast Pipeline, after years of delays and court docket challenges. This week Duke mentioned it would plug the ACP-sized gap in its capital funding plan with renewables and grid upgrades.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee within the 2020 presidential election, has referred to as for an entire decarbonization of the U.S. electrical energy provide by 2035.

Simply how rapidly utilities can bend the curve away from pure gasoline will rely largely on how rapidly prices can come down for power storage and different rising clear power applied sciences. In California, some communities are already selecting to interchange previous gasoline crops with big batteries.

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