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Coal is no longer king in America. That's the latest findings from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), which provides independent statistics and analysis of the energy sector. Coal lost its number one spot as the nation’s top electricity source for the first time on record this April.
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The report found that total net generation of electricity from coal this past April fell from 109,591 to 88,835 thousand megawatt hours, dropping nearly 20 percent compared to last April. At the same time, the data shows explosive growth in solar power in the last year with a 60 percent increase.
“This major milestone shows that coal is on a steady path out, while clean energy solutions like solar and wind are increasingly [taking] over as prices keep falling," said John Coequyt, Sierra Club's director of federal and international climate campaigns.
And it's not just for the month of April. It's part of the long term trend which is moving increasingly away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources like wind and solar. A report released earlier this week from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that overall electricity consumption has slowed in the last 15 years, and the use of natural gas, wind and solar have become larger portions, while coal and nuclear have become smaller portions, of the nation's electricity generation.
As aging coal-fired power plants have been retired, especially from 2009-2013, very little new coal capacity has been added, says the GAO report. The report also found that government support of renewables was definitely helping bring on new capacity.
"Various federal and state actions have contributed to increases in wind and solar power plant capacity, including financial supports and state renewable portfolio standards," says GAO. "These increases led to wind and, to a lesser extent, solar accounting for a larger share of the nation’s energy mix, increasing from just over zero percent of electricity generation in 2001 to four percent in 2013." This number does not account for distributed solar installations, most notably rooftop solar.
"Data from an industry association show that distributed solar generating capacity has increased to reach over 8,500 MW as of the end of 2014—compared to about 10,000 MW that was installed at larger solar power plants. The electricity generated at such distributed generation sites is not generally measured or managed by the system operator," says the GAO.
These two reports confirm the findings of earlier reports on the nation's and the world's energy mix. A recent report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance found that renewable energy is set to blow past fossil fuels in the next 25 years, attracting nearly two-thirds of the spending on new power plants. With rapidly decreasing costs, solar will be the top choice for consumers, particularly in developing nations. Worldwide, solar could draw $3.7 trillion of the $8 trillion invested in renewable energy, with only $4.1 billion spent on coal, natural gas and nuclear.
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