This April, in what was potentially a turning point in the trajectory for the United States’ energy industry, renewable resources surpassed coal in the country’s energy mix for the first time ever. According to a report released by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) says that “renewable sources provided 23 percent of total electricity generation to coal’s 20 percent,” crediting “both seasonal factors as well as long-term increases in renewable generation and decreases in coal generation,” prompting Forbes to report that “the excess of renewables over coal nationally in April is a remarkable testament to the pace of renewables penetration .”
While this certainly is cause for celebration for climate change advocates, environmentalists, and other proponents of clean energy, it does not necessarily mean that coal is on its way out for good in the United States. As Forbes points out in its article “Renewables Beat Out Coal In April, But For How Long?”, coal nearly always hits its lowest annual mark in April, “when temperatures are more moderate and demand for heating and air conditioning is lower,” to the extent that “many natural gas, coal, and nuclear generators schedule routine maintenance for the spring and fall, and many coal plants spent part of April offline for planned, temporary outages.”
Conversely, further contributing to April’s inversion of renewables and coal, spring is a strong season for wind thanks to “a layering effect of hot and cool air that are the thermal forces behind wind” and for hydropower as well, due to seasonal snowmelt. April, while generally a strong month for wind, was also a particularly good month for wind power this year, with strong winds in the “wind belt states” nearly supplying the entirety of the United States’ electricity demand on certain, particularly blustery days.
While these numbers don’t ensure the continued reign of renewables over coal in the next few years, they are, however, an indication of the direction that the U.S. energy mix is going. Look no further than the EIA’s monthly electricity generation chart to see very clearly where the trend is headed. Related: Geopolitical Tensions Put A Floor Under Oil Prices
SingularityHub goes so far as to say that, “By 2030, more than 50 percent of the US economy will run on electricity derived from renewables,” going on to say that “current technological advances in wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric power, nuclear, and localized grids are forging a future of cheap, abundant, and ubiquitous energy.” The article, succinctly titled, “How the US Will Get to a 50 Percent Renewable Electric Economy by 2030“ lays out how this will become possible out of necessity, through the two prongs of energy production, and energy utilization in a world growing more energy-dependent all the time.
One of the biggest hurdles to reaching a 50 percent electric economy by 2030 is the issue of our gas-guzzling transportation systems, which currently account for nearly 30 percent of the United States’ total energy use. The electric vehicles sector is already growing in the U.S. and around the world, but many experts, including those at SingularityHub are counting on a global EV revolution, with electric commercial airliners (introduced at this year’s Paris Air Show) and bold assertions by Tesla that its electric trucks will reshape the overland shipping industry by saving $100,000 per year per vehicle on fuel costs. Related: Virgin Galactic Looks To Go Public In $800 Million Deal
Energy demand will continue to grow in the United States, yes, but that’s nothing compared to what’s happening globally. Energy demand is set to explode as population growth continues to accelerate and the massive and ever-expanding middle classes of China and India take up a bigger portion of the marketplace. “Already,” reports SingularityHub, “China’s energy consumption is expected to double by 2030, and India is right on its tail.”
“In our ‘linear and scarcity-minded’ world of fossil fuels,” SingularityHub’s article goes on to say, “these skyrocketing trends present a problem: more demand equals more environmental devastation, higher prices, and increased geopolitical tensions as the ‘haves’ supply the ‘have-nots.’ Luckily, a ‘global and exponential mindset’ offers an alternative. [...] Higher-priced hydrocarbon fuels drive market incentives to invest heavily in alternative energy sources. Advances in batteries, solar, wind, geothermal, and even nuclear fusion offer humanity a future in which we can viably switch from coal, petroleum, and natural gas to renewables.”
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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