“Coal has no technology path,” said Jeff McDermott, managing partner at Greentech Capital Advisors, a boutique investment bank focused on clean energy. “It’s got nowhere to go but extinction.”
The clean energy revolution is on the verge of a tipping point.
The milestones come despite President Donald Trump’s promise to prop up the coal industry by cutting environmental rules. Analysts say that’s because the shift toward renewables is being driven more by economics than regulation.
“The government can tap on the brakes or accelerate this movement — but this progress will continue moving forward,” said Matthew Hoza, senior energy analyst at consulting firm BTU Analytics. “For the most part, the public is calling for renewables.”
Solar and wind boom
In April, the total available installed generating capacity of coal stood at 257.48 gigawatts, according to the FERC report.
Renewable energy — including not just solar and wind but also water, biomass and geothermal steam — narrowly overtook coal by climbing to 257.53 gigawatts of installed capacity, FERC said.
Not surprisingly, the shift was driven by the rise of solar and wind.
While no new coal-fired power plants were added this year, the FERC report showed solar units increased by 102 units, or 1,473 megawatts. Wind also grew by 18 units, or 1,545 megawatts.
The FERC report measured capacity, not the actual amount of power generated. And renewable energy typically has a lower capacity utilization than other fuel sources. In other words, just because renewable power has the potential to generate this much electricity, doesn’t mean that it actually will — at least not yet.
Renewable generation isn’t expected to surpass coal on an annual basis for several years.
Hoza noted the FERC report’s findings have not yet been matched by the more closely watched numbers published by the EIA — but he expects that to change soon.
“We’re going to eventually see renewables surpass coal across the country,” said Hoza.
Given these trends, McDermott, the Greentech Capital Partner, called the Trump administration’s efforts to save coal a “ridiculous concept” akin to trying to save the rotary phone.
“The public doesn’t want it. And the world can’t take it,” McDermott said. “The Trump administration is playing political favorites, trying to prop up an industry that is technologically obsolete.”
Renewables take aim at natural gas
Power companies are increasingly relenting to pressure from customers and states to adopt cleaner energy.
Renewables are even starting to put pressure on natural gas, which is a cleaner-burning fossil fuel.
Wind and solar power generation scheduled to come online could displace up to 1.42 billion cubic feet per day of gas demand for electric power, according to a report published on Monday by energy analytics company Drillinginfo.
“Renewables are going to get cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. We’re not done,” said McDermott.