The planet’s climate crisis still rages on, but there is some hope on the horizon. April 2019 is on track to become the first month in US history that more electricity was generated by the renewable energy sector than coal-fired plants.
According to the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA), April is projected to see renewable energy – including hydropower, biomass, wind, solar, and geothermal – produce 2.322 million megawatt-hours per day, while coal will produce 1.997 million megawatt-hours. By the looks of things, the output from renewables might beat coal in May too.
Coal held the crown for US energy production for decades until it was toppled by natural gas in 2015. Despite its countless endorsements by President Donald Trump – remember the “Trump Digs Coal” signs? – it now looks like coal is even losing ground to renewables.
“For the first time in history, we now have enough solar and wind installed in the US to generate more electricity from renewables than from coal,” tweeted Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), a prominent voice in the shift towards green energy and co-sponsor of the Green New Deal.
“This is a bright beacon of hope that the sun is finally setting on the dirty power of our past,” he added.
So, does this mean the clean energy revolution has crossed the tipping point? Well, kind of. While this is an undoubtedly positive landmark moment, there are a few things to consider. During periods of low demand, such as spring and summer when the need for heating is lower, it’s standard practice to turn off coal-fired plants, so seasonal factors are at play here. Renewable energy still probably won’t surpass coal on an annual basis for several years.
It’s also important to note that natural gas use still remains high. Although emissions from its combustion are much lower than coal, it’s still a fossil fuel that produces greenhouse gases.
That said, a lot of areas in the US are making outstanding progress when it comes to the big shift to green energy. Massachusetts is leading the way when it comes to wind power, followed by Ohio, California, Rhode Island, and New York. Even oil-rich Texas is making progress, with wind and solar capacity generating more energy in the first quarter fo this year than coal-fired plants.
“Coal’s proponents may dismiss these monthly and quarterly ups and downs in generation share as unimportant, but we believe they are indicative of the fundamental disruption happening across the electric generation sector. As natural gas achieved earlier, renewable generation is catching up to coal, and faster than forecast,” IEEFA said in a commentary.