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Coal-fired electricity generation in the United States was lower than power generation from natural gas and nuclear plants in 2020, with coal dropping out of the top two electricity sources for the first time since at least 1949, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Thursday.
A nearly 30-percent reduction in coal-fired generating capacity and lower utilization of the remaining power plants since 2008 resulted in lower coal-fired electricity generation, which in 2020 was lower than nuclear, the EIA said.
Last year, natural gas-fired power plants generated the largest volume of U.S. electricity, 1.6 billion megawatthours (MWh), while nuclear-powered generation came in second at 790 million MWh. Coal-fired electricity was third, generating 774 million MWh, data from EIA’s Electric Power Monthly showed.
According to EIA data, U.S. coal production and consumption have been on a decline since peaking in 2008 and 2007, respectively. In 2019, for example, U.S. coal production hit its lowest level since 1978, while coal consumption dropped to the lowest since 1975.
The rise of renewables and declining coal electricity generation resulted in energy consumption from renewables in the United States surpassing in 2019 coal consumption for the first time since 1885.
Due to rising natural gas production and increased natural gas-powered generation, coal-fired electricity generation capacity continues to retire in the U.S. Following coal capacity retirements, electricity generation from coal has dropped significantly over the past decade to the point of reaching its lowest level in 42 years in 2019.
Coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation was 20 percent in 2020, but it is set to rise to an average of 23 percent in both 2021 and 2022, according to EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). Expected higher natural gas prices are set to make coal more competitive in the power generation sector. Nuclear power generation, on the other hand, is expected to decline because of the planned retirement of three nuclear plants totaling 5.1 GW of capacity this year.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com
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Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com