Coal has had a presence since the 1300s, when the Hopi Indians first began to use it. By the late 1800s, it had overtaken wood as the primary source of fuel for the nation. Those days appear to be coming to an end, with a new report showing that the fossil fuel is no longer viable in the United States.
Environmental policy firm Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology released data showing that over 80 per cent of coal-fired power stations are either scheduled to close by 2025, or are more expensive to run than nearby renewable operations.
The report showed that 182 of 235 plants were either not economically viable or retiring anyway, and that 75 per cent would not be competitive when it comes to capacity in the next few years.
The data also showed that these plants were running less frequently and not at the total output, which has seen their capacity factor plummet from 53 per cent in 2017 to 40 per cent in 2020.
The lead author of the analysis Eric Gimon said these figures need to be acted on by policymakers, or the United States could face energy shortages and disruption.
“If you hide your head in the sand and pretend it’s not happening, probably some of these things will happen faster and with more disruption,” he said.
Coal’s health impacts not considered in this analysis
The report doesn’t consider the social costs of coal-fired power stations, only their operational costs. That means they cost more to run than renewable energy power plants, are not as efficient, produce more expensive electricity and are more harmful to the environment. If you add the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, along with sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulate pollution, these plants come at an enormous cost.
Previously, the health and environmental issues caused by these emissions would have been overlooked due to the economic benefits. Now that those economic benefits are almost gone, it effectively renders the coal-fired power industry in the United States redundant.
This data could expedite the United States’ transition to renewable energy
Ever since Joe Biden was elected as the 46th President of the United States, there have been some giant strides forward when it comes to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
In the lead up to the election, the Joe Biden Plan for a Clean Energy Revolution and Environmental Justice was released, outlining a detailed climate change response.
Biden also recently hosted the Summit on Climate Change, where 40 leaders worldwide came together to update net-zero carbon targets set at the Paris Agreement.
There is sure to be further discussion at 47th Group of Seven (G7) Summit in June, and the 16th Group of 20 (G20) Summit in October later this year. The data from this report could expedite the United States’ goals and targets.