Last year marked the first time renewables surpassed coal as the U.S.’s second-biggest power source

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Renewables like solar panels and wind farms provided the second-most power to the country, just behind natural gas.

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that renewables generated 21% of all electricity in the country for 2020. Renewables like biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind accounted for 834 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of the nation’s power last year. That falls just behind natural gas, which generated 1,617 billion kWh or 40% of all energy in the U.S. The news comes from a report released in July that the EIA shared again last week as the year winds down and we look towards 2022. The agency believes that coal-fired electricity use likely rose this year due to rising natural gas prices, increasing about 18% compared with 2020. This will likely push coal to be the second-most used energy source in 2021.

It’s highly unlikely that the trend of coal surpassing renewables will continue into 2022. For one, coal-fired electricity has been on the downturn since 2007 when it peaked at 2,016 billion kWh and was the largest source of energy until 2016, most likely because natural gas has replaced much of coal’s capacity. According to another EIA report, dozens of coal-fired plants have been replaced or converted to natural gas since 2011. Some of those decisions made by power companies are in order to comply with emissions regulations, like the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which was unveiled in 2011. In the following years until 2019, Alabama Power Co. converted 10 of its generators at four Alabama coal plants to comply with the standard, which took effect in 2016.





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