U S monthly electricity generation by type

Renewables generate more than coal in the U.S. for a record 40 straight days

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The United States generated more energy from renewables sources than from coal for 40 straight days, setting a new record, according to the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA). By comparison, in all of 2019, renewables only beat out coal 38 days total. April 2020 was also the first month ever when renewables beat out coal altogether in the U.S.

Lasting from March 25 through May 4, the streak was due to a variety of factors including increased renewable energy capacity across the country, low gas prices, warm weather, and lower energy demand due to COVID-19 lockdowns. With much of the economy shut down nationwide, energy demand has plummeted. Because renewable energy is typically cheaper than coal, coal is often the first to go when more energy is not needed. This has significantly improved the proportion of energy coming from renewables.

It’s questionable whether we should celebrate a feat that in large part is the result of a global pandemic that has taken tens of thousands of lives and severely disrupted the economy. In some ways, this record is another example of the devastating toll of COVID-19. But the record is also a powerful example of renewables’ long-term advantage over coal. Renewables are already often cheaper than coal. And technology is only improving. As we add more renewable capacity and improve efficiency, there will be less and less reason to ever need coal. April 2020 is proof of that.

Soon, perhaps 2021, perhaps even this year, we will see an entire year when renewables generate more than coal in the United States altogether. And in our lifetimes, we will likely see the end of coal altogether.

That, at least, is worth celebrating.

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Peter Schulte

Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA, USA with his wife, son, and cat.

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