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Bye, Bye Coal: Renewables Overtaking Coal Worldwide

It is a remarkable story, and despite obvious political ramifications for lawmakers representing coal states, the U.S. has cut the use of coal for electricity generation from 50% in 2005 to 19.8% in 2021, and it's still falling.

In fact, according to our podcast guest, scientist and energy expert Jack Kerfoot, renewables like solar and wind power are expected to overtake coal as the world's top energy source by 2025, just two years from now.

In this extremely informative episode, Kerfoot walks us through those developments and explains what they mean for the future, including impact on the world's environment as we deal with climate change.

Kerfoot begins the episode with an explanation of the various types of coal, how they are used, and their cost. He says that as we move away from coal to renewables, energy prices will dramatically decrease even as we reduce the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

Here are the costs associated with various types of energy generation, according to Kerfoot:

1) Onshore Wind – 2.6¢ to 5.0¢ per kWh

2) Onshore Solar PV – 2.8¢ to 4.1¢ per kWh

3) Natural Gas ($3.45 MMBTU) – 4.5¢ to 7.4¢ per kWh

4) Geothermal – 5.6¢ to 9.3¢ per kWh

5) Coal – 6.5¢ to 15.2¢ per kWh

6) Natural Gas Peaker Plants – 15.1¢ to 19.6¢ per kWh

7) Nuclear – 13.1¢ to 20.4¢ per kWh.

"Clearly, onshore wind and solar are significantly cheaper sources of electricity on a levelized cost basis than coal-fueled power plants. I anticipate that new technologies will allow the cost of electricity from wind and solar to continue to decrease over the next decade," Kerfoot says. Here's the breakdown of energy sources in the U.S.

in 2021 compared to 2005: In 2005, utilities used Coal (49.6%), Nuclear (19.3%), Petroleum Gas (19.1%), Hydropower (6.7%), Oil (3.0%), and Renewable Energy (2.3%) (geothermal, solar, wind, and biomass) to generate electricity in America. In 2021, utilities used Petroleum Gas (38.8%), Coal (21.9%), Nuclear (18.9 %), Renewables (13.7%), Hydropower (6.2%), and Oil (0.5%).

In 2021, all forms of renewable energy (hydropower, wind, solar, etc.) generated 19.9% of the nation’s electricity.

What caused this big shift to renewables?

In 2005, there was growing concern across our nation over the impact of global warming, which results in climate change, Kerfoot says, adding that there was also concern over our nation’s energy security. Moreover, the price of crude oil (WTI) was over US $56/Barrel and was forecast to go over $100/Barrel by 2008, which is what happened, he explains.

Because of these developments, Congress passed the bipartisan “Energy Policy Act of 2005,” providing tax incentives to encourage domestic energy production including renewable energy like wind and solar, nuclear power, “clean coal”, and oil/gas technology.

"The legislation did Not have any significant impact on rejuvenating nuclear power development or the coal industry. The legislation Did have significant impact on the development of wind and solar technology and hydraulic fracturing (fracking) technology in the oil/gas industry," Kerfoot says.

"The tax incentives encouraged entrepreneurs, like the late T. Boone Pickens to develop wind farms in Texas. In 2006, a wind farm boom commenced in many of the Great Plains states, which have strong consistent winds, an abundance of entrepreneurs, innovative power companies, and low population densities," he explains.

"Current data indicates that renewable energy (including hydropower) will greater than 50% of the nation’s electricity before 2050. The times they are a changing."

Listen to the podcast:


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