Gas And Renewables Toppled Coal A Decade Early
Cheap natural gas and renewables ousted coal as America’s leading energy source in 2015, a decade earlier than the Clean Power Plan predicted—and without the Clean Power Plan’s help, according to a new analysis.
SNL Energy, a division of S&P Global Market Intelligence, published an analysis last week showing gas taking over as America’s leading energy source in 2015. A few days later, the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s published its Short-Term Energy Outlook, showing gas still lagging behind coal in 2015, but taking the lead in 2016. Both show mounting pressure on coal primarily from gas, but also from growth in renewables.
They lend evidence to President Obama’s argument, also published last week, that the momentum of clean energy will continue even without Administration support.
“Public policy—ranging from Recovery Act investments to recent tax credit extensions—has played a crucial role,” the president wrote in the journal Science, “but technology advances and market forces will continue to drive renewable deployment.”
The SNL analysis indeed shows the might of market forces already changing the energy sector.
“EPA expected the Clean Power Plan would push gas to exceed coal by 2025,” Rice University environmental engineering professor Daniel Cohan told me in an email. “Instead, we’ve seen that milestone was already reached in 2015, even without the Plan.”
That suggests the decline of coal, dirtiest of the fuels, could continue even if Donald Trump succeeds in scuttling the Clean Power Plan. But without the Clean Power Plan, Cohan warned, coal could make a comeback.
“This reinforces that markets are already on their way to cutting emissions, but further progress depends on policy in case prices shift. Without the Clean Power Plan, emissions could bounce back from their recent lows,” he said.
We’re already seeing a minor coal revival. The coal decline documented in the SNL analysis through 2015 increased early in 2016, Cohan said, but because of higher natural gas prices this winter, coal is “showing signs of a slight bounce back.” In fact, EIA expects coal to resume its status as top fuel in 2017.