Not everyone is convinced that battery-cars really are good for the environment, noting that in some parts of the country they rely on energy generated by burning coal. But in more and more of the country, that fuel source is continuing to lose ground – to the point that renewables like hydro, wind and solar in April actually topped coal for the first time on a nationwide basis.
A report by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, likely won’t be well-received in some places, notably West Virginia, a center of the coal industry. And it flies in the face of the pledges made by Pres. Donald Trump who repeatedly has promised to bring coal back as a major source of U.S. energy.
But the die appears to be solidly cast, according to FERC, with renewables expected to continue expanding their lead over coal over the coming years, with a quarter of the U.S. electric supply likely to be generated by wind, solar, geothermal and other clean sources by 2022.
“Five years ago this never would have been close to happening,” Dennis Wamsted, who authored a separate report for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told CNN. “The transition that’s going on in the electric sector in the United States has been phenomenal.”
(Ford marking switch to green power for Detroit-area facilities. Click Here for the story.)
King Coal has been facing challenges for decades. At its peak it was responsible for about 60% of U.S. energy production, but that has fallen drastically despite efforts in some quarters to prop it back up. Coal was down to 23.04% of the nation’s energy supply in 2018 and, in April, that slid to 21.55%.
Renewables, meanwhile, have been on a rapid rise, backed not only by environmentalists but also many political leaders, especially on the state level. California, which makes up the single largest economy within the U.S., has been an active proponent of wind, solar and other green sources. But so has Texas, another state more commonly associated with fossil fuels. Carbon-neutral sources made up the majority of the Lone Star State’s energy supply during the first quarter, in fact.
Add in Hawaii and other parts of the country where renewables are gaining ground and they collectively nudged ever so slightly past coal in April, reaching 21.56% of the U.S. energy mix.
It isn’t the first notable setback for coal, however. In 2015, natural gas surpassed it for the first time. As of April, natural gas accounted for a whopping 44.44% of the U.S. energy supply. Nuclear, meanwhile, stuttered along at a mere 8.95%, reported FERC, far below the lead role its proponents once envisioned.
Looking forward, in spite of the Trump administration’s proclaimed support for “clean” coal, there seems little push to add more capacity. FERC’s most recent report showed only two “high probability” plants in the works with a combined capacity of 867 megawatts. At the same time, it indicated 50 existing plants, with a capacity of 13,276 mW, are set to be retired.
(Click Here for more about GM revealing plans to electrify fleet in China.)
On a commercial level, there are more than 3,500 carbon-neutral plants in the proposal stage, with a collective capacity of more than 270,000 mW. Looking solely at the “high probability” projects, FERC said there are still more than 800 using renewable energy, with them expected to bring more than 41,000 mW to the U.S. grid. Only a handful of existing renewable operations are scheduled to go down.
Wind is, by far, the biggest area of growth, with 140 likely projects that will generate 25,536 mW of power. Solar follows, with 527 projects set to produce 14,847 mW. Other renewable projects hope to harness energy through hydro, geothermal, biomass and waste heat.
There are some challenges ahead, experts caution, as most renewable sources are subject to issues that mean they aren’t as consistent as coal, natural gas and other fossil fuel sources. As they become a more critical part of the supply chain, the push is on for ways to stabilize the renewable base through such things as battery storage networks.
The FERC study suggests that battery storage systems, as well as flywheel and fuel cell technologies, are in the works all of which potentially can capture excess energy and then add it into the grid when there is either excess demand or when the renewable source itself isn’t online.
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With more and more carbon neutral energy sources coming into operations it will be either for battery-car proponents to position those vehicles as truly emissions free, rather than having to live with the idea that they are simply moving pollution from the tailpipe to the smoke stack.