For hundreds of years, humans have found different and novel ways to produce energy. Those innovations, such as oil and gas, were revolutionary for their time, but created unparalleled pollution which impacted our environment immediately and over time. While helpful during a time in which these energy sources seemed limitless, these energy sources, such as coal, ended up becoming a noose around the neck of energy producers and consumers. With the advent of renewable energy, there was another alternative and, now, for the first time in 130 years, renewable energy has surpassed coal. This striking milestone reveals much about the future of energy and why even improbable energy sources can become major producers of the electricity we consume.
What is coal-powered energy?
Located mostly in a nation’s mountains, coal is a resource that has been used for around 200 years for a variety of purposes, from home heating and power to helping drive railroads forward as the primary fuel for locomotives. This then-abundant, cheap resource powered our nation’s industry and countless homes, factories, and office buildings. It also created thousands of jobs for coal miners and those who had to service all facets of the industry, from mining coal to transporting and packaging it for use around the country. This energy source, when burned, caused heavy pollution in cities and other places and was creating a problem when it came to the long-term health and environmental impact. While cheap and abundant during a time, this energy source doubled back on its users and may have created more problems than it solved.
What is renewable energy?
Quite simply, renewable energy is any energy source that can be renewed, replenished, and will not be exhausted like conventional energy sources such as coal, oil, and other finite energy sources. Wind, solar, hydro-electric, and other sources which are sometimes more expensive to create at the outset may be better long-term investments in energy production in addition to environmental protection. It also is the wave of the future, given the diminishing amount of certain energy resources that have previously been mined or tapped. Given this backdrop, it is no surprise that as an ascendant energy source, renewable energy would eventually eclipse coal in the amount of use.
How has renewable energy surpassed coal as an energy source for the first time in 130 years?
In 2019, according to Electric Power Monthly, renewable energy surpassed coal as an energy source for the first time in 130 years with renewable energy comprising 23% energy usage and coal comprising 20% of energy usage. While some of this change can be attributed to higher temperatures in certain parts of the nation, which allows for less energy generation in areas that rely on traditional energy sources in the winter. In addition to the lessening of usage of traditional energy sources, there was heavy generation of energy from wind-based sources in addition to solar sources. Hydroelectric generation was also helped by seasonal changes to help drive the energy produced from this source up. No matter whether seasonal changes were to be credited for renewable energy sources eking out coal, it shows that the next generation of energy sources is quickly beating out the previous generation’s energy sources.
What does this mean for me and my clients?
This is a net positive for us all. Cleaner, more reliable energy sources can help ensure that prices are more uniform, we have a pristine environment, and a power grid that is less subject to disruption from imported fuels. Working to create more predictable energy sources that will last longer will hopefully lead to lower fuel prices for us all.
As energy brokers, our role is to help educate, and below are a few facts on why more than 50% of electricity in the U.S. will be generated by renewable energy by 2030.
Older forms of energy production rely on finite resources
In the U.S., many of the older forms of energy production were adequate to their time, but did not fully take the future into account. They were based on then-abundant resources which were cheap to harvest and convert into energy. These resources were also relatively nearby and, at least at the beginning of energy conversion history, were not known to cause the devastating, environmentally harmful impacts. Over time the energy industry, like many Americans, began to realize the economic and environmental benefits of renewable energy.
Why do renewable energy sources make sense for energy companies and consumers?
Although some criticize renewable energy sources as costly to create, they are undoubtedly a long-lasting resource that benefits both energy companies and consumers. There is no theoretical limit to the amount of sunshine, wind, water, and other renewable energy sources that can be harvested and used again and again. For example, the same stream can help produce power for generations instead of “running out” or depleting the amount of water in it. Additionally, there are often various federal, state, and local tax incentives that help defray the cost of using renewable energy sources, which not only help energy companies afford renewable energy sources, but also help them keep prices low for consumers. This contributes to the ability of renewable energy sources to be invested in and proliferate for years to come.
What reason is there to think we’ll reach such a high number of renewable energy sources by 2030?
In an optimistic prediction, NextEra Energy has put down a marker regarding high renewable energy growth in the next decade. Even without delving into the numbers, it makes sense that renewable energy is the wave of the future. Unlike some older forms of energy production, they don’t suffer from worry about a date they will run out. Additionally, governments and populations are much more likely to support the building of a clean energy plant due to its environmentally-friendly nature and lack of output such as smoke, smog, or a derisive smell, which can send property values plummeting and some neighbors’ health issues into a tail spin. No matter what the exact number or percentage of renewable energy sources ends up being in 2030, you can be sure that renewable energy will only be growing over time.