For first time ever, renewables surpass coal in USA power mix

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) published the data on Wednesday, and it follows a report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) from earlier this month noting that electricity generation capacity from renewables also surpassed coal capacity in April. It is also the least quantity of coal the U.S. has burned in over a decade. Despite the Trump administration's efforts to prop up the industry, 51 coal plants have closed since the 2016 election.

Renewables produced 23% of total USA power while coal only produced 20%, in a shift that energy experts say reflects both temporary seasonal fluctuations and long-term improvements in renewable technology.

The report also noted that hydroelectric power, which remains the biggest source of renewable energy for most months, surges in the Spring as melting snowpack provides more water supply for downstream generators.

Coal has been losing favor over the past few years as attention shifted to shale and natural gas. Coal-fired power plant owners, expecting this low demand, often use spring and fall to take their power plants offline for regularly scheduled maintenance. Still, the month of April was marked by some unusual events which helped set the stage for this major milestone.

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Throughout the month of April, Bloomberg reviews that coal's numbers have been truly down partially as a result of a number of coal plants had been being serviced.

In addition, people use less electricity in spring, as it's not cold enough to need a lot of heating and not warm enough to require lots of air conditioner use. Natural gas posted the largest share by far, more than a third of total April generation of more than 295 million MWh. As coal fades into history, some cities and states are turning to pure gas instead of renewables, which may very well be a worrying growth in the face of the climate crisis. At the same time, costs of installing clean power facilities in the US have become so cheap that Bloomberg goes on to say that around half of the world's power could come from renewable energy by 2050. Globally, fossil fuel subsidies in 2017 rose to US$300 billion a year, about double the estimated support for renewable power generation.

In most of the US, it's now cheaper to build a new solar or wind farm than to keep an existing coal plant open.

Meanwhile, renewable energy subsidies in 2018 decreased by 11 percent, reaching only US$288.9 billion. On an annual average basis, coal will produce more electricity generation in the United States than renewables in both 2019 and 2020, but renewables are expected to surpass nuclear next year.

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