Since the various Industrial Revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries, coal and other fossil fuels have dominated the global market due to their cheap prices, efficient production processes, and reliability. However, the gradual yet growing movement towards renewable energy sources has made a notable breakthrough this past year in the United States.
Renewable energy sources, mainly solar energy, wind energy, and hydropower, have been growing in popularity and use over the past few decades. However, these sources have largely been out shadowed by the more established but harmful, non-renewable energy sources, namely coal. Nevertheless, in recent times, these renewable energy sources have made significant progress in the energy market – according to findings in the Monthly Energy Review published by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) this past Thursday, in 2019, consumption of renewable energy resources surpassed coal consumption for the first time since 1885. Additionally, note that the various renewable energy resources we know today were not popularized until relatively recently; as the EIA explained, “Historically, wood was the main source of U.S. energy until the mid-1800s and was the only commercial-scale renewable source of energy in the United States”. Therefore, the more modern, popularized renewable energy resources of today display exciting projections for the future, due to their variability and more efficient manners of production in comparison to wood.
One drawback of this remarkable achievement is due to the broad scale of renewable energy, creating a possibly unfair head-to-head comparison between coal and renewable energy – as financial expert Maxx Chatsko stated, “Energy consumption from renewable energy topped coal last year, but only when all energy sources are counted. In other words, the math only works when electricity production, transportation, and consumption from industrial, residential, and commercial markets are combined.”
Ultimately, despite the potential fallacies in comparison of the two energy industries, a glance at trends in coal consumption and renewable energy consumption reveal clear conclusions: according to the report by the EIA and analysis by hydrogeologist Scott K. Johnson, coal consumption dropped 15% from 2018 to 2019, while renewable energy consumption, namely in wind and solar energy, ticked up 1% within the same timeframe, a seemingly small yet nevertheless important sign of growth. To sum it up, as president of the Environmental Working Group, Ken Cook, pointed out, “It’s basic economics. Renewable energy is cheaper, cleaner, and abundant. There is simply no way for coal to compete.”