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.