Renewables now make up 21.56 per cent of US generation capacity, compared to 21.55 per cent for coal, according to official figures
The US now boast more renewables power capacity than coal, according to analysis of official US government data released today that marks a significant turning point in the superpower's shift to a low-carbon grid.
The data, released by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and analysed by the SUN DAY campaign, reveals power capacity from biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, and wind now accounts for 21.56 per cent of US generation capacity. By contrast, coal plants account for 21.55 per cent - a share that is expected to keep falling as coal plant closures in some states gather pace.
The record came thanks to a surge in new solar and wind installations in the first four months of this year, with more than 1.5GW of new wind capacity and more than 1.4GW of new solar capacity coming online during the period.
Both solar and wind installations are growing at a fast clip in the US, with the share of the nation's generating capacity provided by utility-scale solar alone more than doubling over the past three years, and wind's share of the capacity mix increasing from 6.43 per cent to 8.25 per cent.
By May 2022, FERC suggests renewable energy sources could account for a quarter of total US installed capacity.
The agency also indicates that convential energy sources are moving into decline. "Net capacity by nuclear, coal, oil, and natural gas combined could actually decline by 24MW [by May 2022]; that is, retirements would exceed additions," the SUN DAY campaign said. "While net growth by just natural gas is projected to be 18,530MW, that is more than offset by net losses for coal (12,409MW), nuclear (5,106MW), and oil (1,039MW). And even natural gas' projected net growth will be dwarfed by that of wind (25,117MW) and almost equaled by that of utility-scale solar (14,846 MW)."
Capacity is not the same as generation, and on any given day coal could still be providing more power across the US than renewables. Indeed, in 2018 data from the US Energy Information Administration suggests renewables accounted for just over 17 per cent of total electricity generation, compared to coal's share of 27 per cent. Official figures show that despite a series of coal plant closures overall US greenhouse gas emissions still ticked upwards last year, as rising emissions from transport and industry brought to an end a recent downward trend.
And yet, there is growing evidence that the US energy sector is quietly edging towards a coal wind down, despite President Trump's vocal support for the industry. Moreover, the country move towards a full blown coal phase out within 18 months, depending on the result of next year's Presidential election.
The update comes as leading Democrat candidates vying to secure the nomination for next year's presidential race seek to outbid each other with a series of pledges to ensure the US becomes a net zero emission economy by mid-century.
Meanwhile, billionaire media mogul and environmental campaigner Michael Bloomberg last week officially launched a new $500m campaign - dubbed Beyond Carbon - which will lobby and support states in a bid to ensure all US coal plants are closed by 2030. It increasingly looks as if Bloomberg's calls for a post-coal future will be entirely in line with market trends.
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