Coal Consumption Plunged to Lowest Since at Least 1973. Why There’s No Hope for Coal

It comes down to costs and being bypassed by technological innovation, amid stagnating demand for electricity:

  • Arrival of “combined cycle” natural gas power plants in the 1990s.
  • Collapse in price of natural gas since 2008 due to fracking.
  • Surging wind power production in TX, OK, KS, IA.
  • Decades-long decline of industrial use of coal.   

By Wolf Richter for WOLF STREET:

Consumption of coal by US power plants in April plunged 30% from April last year, to the lowest level in the monthly data going back to 1973, the EIA reported today. This was down 19% from April 1973.

A process of many years: Peak monthly consumption of coal by US power plants occurred from 2003 through 2008 when during the hot summer months (air conditioning) caused coal consumption to rise to 95-99 million short tons. In 2019, the peak month was July, when coal consumption by power plants was down to 56 million short tons. And this year, given the relentless trend over the past 12 years, July consumption will be lower still:

“King coal,” as it was called in the 1990s when it was still the dominant fuel for power plants, was heavily wounded by a technological innovation, the Combined Cycle Gas Turbine power plant, commercialized in the 1990s.

A CCGT power plant uses natural gas to fuel a combustion turbine, similar to a turbine in a jet aircraft. It then uses the hot exhaust gases to heat water into high-pressure steam that drives a steam turbine. Both turbines drive generators to generate electricity. The thermal efficiency of a CCGT plant has reached about 65%.

Coal power plants just create high pressure steam that drives a steam turbine. At the time, their thermal efficiency was below 40%. The rest was waste heat.

But retiring old coal-fired power plants and replacing them with CCGT plants was a gradual process, and CCGT plants only gradually made measurable inroads into the overall power generation portfolio. Increasing electricity consumption until 2008 covered up the market share losses of coal that started in the 1990s.

Then in 2008, the wide commercialization of fracking for natural gas caused production of natural gas in the US to surge, and the price to collapse, reaching multi-decade lows in recent years, currently in the range of $1.70 per million Btu – compared to the $2.20-range in the late 1990s and the $4-$8-range from 2000 to 2008.

Coal had to compete with a much more efficient technology (the CCGT plant) and the collapsed price of natural gas. This was when the coal miners began filing for bankruptcy, one after the other, and several filed twice.

Then, more recently, wind power became competitive with coal. For wind power, the “fuel” is free, unlike coal. There are no transportation costs involved in getting the “fuel” to a wind turbine, unlike coal which is hauled by rail often over long distances. What they have in common is that both have capital costs associated with building the plant and equipment and expenses associated with running and maintaining the plant and equipment.

Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kansas were the four states with the most electricity generation from wind in 2019, according to the EIA. These four states combined accounted for over 50% of total US electricity generation from wind in 2019. Texas produced about as much as the other three combined. In distant fifth place was California.

And the power plants of choice to back renewables are natural-gas-fired because they can ramp up power generation very rapidly, when needed.

Industrial consumption of coal on multi-decade decline.

Coal consumption by coke plants and other industrial users has been relatively stable over the past 12 months, declining in April by just 1% year-over-year, but March and April, at 3.8 million short tons each, were down by 74% from the same months in 1973. Industrial use of coal accounted for 32% of total coal consumption in 1973. In April, industrial use was down to 14% of total coal consumption.

Exports of coal remain in the same four-decade range.

Exporting coal has been the one remaining hope, but in 2019, coal exports fell to 92 million short tons for the entire year (by comparison, total US consumption in 2019 was 587 million short tons). The peak year for exports was 2012, at 126 million short tons. The second highest year was 1981, at 113 million short tons. In other words, coal exports, though they vary widely from year to year, have been in the same range since the early 1980s.

Stagnating electricity consumption since 2008.

Then there is the additional issue that all power generators face, from wind to coal: Generating and selling electricity in the US has been a stagnating business at best since 2008 despite population growth and economic growth, as efficiencies of electrical equipment from light bulbs to residential and commercial air conditioners have vastly improved:

Utilities have been hoping for years that large-scale adoption of EVs in the US will finally cause electricity consumption – and thereby revenues for utilities — to increase. Utilities have another reason to pray for EVs: Many people would charge them up at night in their garages, when electricity consumption is very low, and utilities would make money off their otherwise idle capacity. But so far, this mass-arrival of EVs hasn’t happened yet, and utilities are still left hoping. And when or if this flood of EVs does arrive, it won’t be coal that will fill in that incremental demand, but the cheaper sources of power now available.

There’s Just No Good Way Out. Read… Brick & Mortar Retailers, Malls, Mall-REITs, and their Debts: The Whole Schmear is Coming Apart

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  149 comments for “Coal Consumption Plunged to Lowest Since at Least 1973. Why There’s No Hope for Coal

  1. MonkeyBusiness says:

    Basically we are nowhere close to being great again.

    As I said before, we’ll need a major conflict soon. Not looking pretty.

    • Fat Chewer. says:

      “War does not make one great.”
      Quote from Master Yoda.

      • MonkeyBusiness says:

        Master Yoda didn’t live through WWII.

        But yeah, this time around I think the powers that be are underestimating our current enemies a bit.

        • MCH says:

          At the rate things are going, we might end up with one in the next decade. Things are being ramped up with China significantly, and it doesn’t look like a partisan issue.

          If something like this occurs, it will kill the economy, and the little minor inconveniences we have now with the supply chain will become gaping holes. If it gets to that point, we need to all pray that Xi stays in power, because the guy replacing him is going to be much worse.

        • timbers says:

          I read Russia and China both have strategy of avoiding direct conflict with US, because they think we are doing a better of destroying our selves than they could ever hope to achieve themselves in their wildest dreams. I think they are correct.

          There is an account of a previous administration asking China if they were attacked conventionally, would the break precedent and respond with nukes? Supposedly the high ranking Chinese military official responded:

          Try it and see.

          As for Russia, it has a deep history of crushing anyone who attacks her directly. Not a good idea.

        • Just Some Random Guy says:

          China is funding a lot of the craziness we’re seeing today in the US.

        • Don says:

          “But yeah, this time around I think the powers that be are underestimating our current enemies a bit.” The only major enemy that America has is America. We are doing an excellent job of destroying ourselves.

        • MCH says:

          No kidding, we’re doing a better job of killing ourselves. All it takes is a few trolls on the internet leveraging the best WMD we ever created called social media, and the willingness of our corporations to go to the cheapest pool of labor over the last two decades.

        • timbers says:

          Just Some Random Guy,

          What ever China is funding is an microscopic infinitesimal pittance to what the US funds against her and every other nation. This is very widely known. Just look at the size of staff of US embassies vs other nations, as just one of a great long list of many examples.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          MCH,

          China go could go full North Korea (i.e. be a crazy nuclear threat), but, economically China doesn’t have as much leverage as everybody thinks. Already before Trrump, companies were relocating their factories out of china, because, of cost and all of the issues that exist with dealing with China. When companies first start putting their factories in China, it was a great deal for them, but, over time that deal has soured and keeps getting worse. Even alot of Chinese Companies are moving factories out of China.

          As far as Xi goes, he is literally as evil as possibly can be. It’s important to know that before Xi took over, China was getting more free every year, Xi made China do a 180. That evil has to build momentum. Fortunately, the party in china isn’t happy with the international reaction to him.

          Allegedly, this is all according to Epoch times/NTD News (the not unbiased, but, the people who peacefully protest even if it means being imprisoned and have your organs stolen people) they say that a coup was attempted against him last month. Him and his top guys haven’t been seen in public since (they’re in hiding). Xi also pi**ed off the army, who wasn’t all that keen on him in the first place, especially, because of the way that Indian-Chinese border skirmish ended up. All the Chinese Soldiers who died were quickly cremated, so that China could try to cover up how badly they lost, the Chinese soldiers were denied all burial rights, and their families treated terribly.

          So there is some hope left, realistically, the guy that replaces Xi will try to win back foreign approval, if possible, until then, keeping the pressure on is the best thing to do. As Always anything could happen. China already peaked though, the big thing for them will be to hold it all together.

        • Lee says:

          I’m still waiting for WWIII and all the others wars that the Democrats and other left-wingers promised us if Mr Trump was elected President.

          First US President in a long time to have not started a new shooting war somewhere in the world.

          Too bad that we are still in the ‘Gan, Iraq, and Syria though.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Back to today’s topic though. I get that coal is being undercut by natural gas, because, of fracking. But, once the fracking scam ends, why wouldn’t coal see a partial revival? As nice as it would be, I just don’t think wind is quite there yet, that it could almost entirely replace coal and natural gas. I would expect that natural gas use would go down, as fracking ends, and then coal winning a good share of its former marketshare back. So in the 5 to 10 year window coal would be somewhere in-between its current use and it’s pre-fracking era use. Later on 10+ years from now, I would expect it to be slowly phased out over a LONG period of time, unless some energy break-though happens.

        • char says:

          @roberts

          China is already a nuke state with plenty of nukes.
          It is not economic leverage but potential that is important and China has loads of that but the main problem is that it is very unlikely that the rest of the world would join a North Koreanfication of China. In fact the only country for it are the US, Japan and possible Vietnam. The rest of the world simply does not care that the US loses its number one position. I think a lot of states prefer a world with multiple powers to one power.

          There is obviously a flight out of China of low cost work, but that is not bad because Chinese aren’t any longer low paid. So all the low paid work that is done for the rest of the world is leaving China, but not only that, also low paid work meant for China is leaving China. This is so much work that Vietnam will in reality skip the low paid phase and will go strait to the almost medium paid phase of development. India has the problem that its relationship with China is unsure so using India as a low cost exporter to China may be impossible so the most likely place for the world to make its cheap junk is probably East Africa (incl. Yemen) as that allows manufacturing for the US, EU and China regions

          About Xi being evil? Most people of great power are and his evilness is IMHO for most Americans that he is making China and not America, number one.
          He undoubtedly has many enemies inside China but i doubt that their policies would be any better from an American perspective. They all want China to be number one.

          A problem for coal is that a combination of wind, combined cycle and batteries is cheaper than coal, build faster, needs less up-front investment and doesn’t need an investment horizon of 50 years. Add in solar, which at the moment is still largely replacing gas and it is a no-brainer why coal has no future

        • Gandalf says:

          TR,
          Regarding Xi –
          Agree with you about how he has turned China for the worse.

          However, the key here is that Xi got the CCP to overturn the term limits rule on his presidency – previously Deng Xiaoping had instituted a 10 year term limit for presidents of China.

          This rule came from Deng’s personal bitter experience with Mao, who was Ruler for Life despite doing incredibly bad and stupid things like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, which resulted only in the deaths of tens of million of Chinese and kept China a backwards nation.

          This means that if Xi is clever and ruthless enough to suppress his enemies for as long as possible, he will try to rule for life, certainly well beyond 2022 when his term should have expired under the old rule. He has already ruthlessly removed, imprisoned, and suppressed any and all CCP and military leaders who were potentially disloyal to him, under the guise of an “anti-corruption” campaign.

          Since almost everything in China happens based on “guanxi”, or connections/influence peddling, it’s easy to nail anybody in a position of power for corruption in China.

          So, really, this is going to be a race between how ruthless Xi can become as a dictator in order to hold onto power, and whether he slips up or not and lets his enemies get rid of him somehow. A Stalin vs. Khrushchev outcome basically.

          Remember, China has developed into a HUGE surveillance state, worse than you could imagine even from the “1984” novel, and Xi has this power of state repression and surveillance available at his fingertips. And, he’s used his time in power to make sure only the people most loyal to him personally are in charge.

          This is not a society that will have the vibrant, dynamic growth and free thinking that China had developed over the last 20 years. Ultimately, Xi if he is successful at holding onto power, will have to fully turn China back into a Gulag state like the Soviet Union was. And we know how well that turned out.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          char,

          Going full North Korrea means things like china would shut down its borders and not allow its citizens to leave without permission, which most won’t get (permission). It also means that it would use its nukes to constantly threaten its neighbors, there is also many more negative things that would happen as well. This would result in the economy imploding and potentially having problems such as famine in the future. There are hardliners who push for this in the CCP. I don’t think it will happen though, because, unlike North Korrea, the Chinese have gotten used to their country being more well off. By comparison, North Korrea is about as rich as it ever was, so people are used to the current state of things.

          As for China becoming a significant power, China had the possibility to become one, the US and Europe just kept pushing factories and money into china and allowing them to get away with everything, stuff no other country is allowed to get away with, but, Xi ended this golden opportunity by going too far with many things.

          Moving factories out of china effects the entire supply chain above them, especially, because many factories cannot be sustained with Chinese demand alone. It’s also important to know that there are many advanced machines used in manufacturing and foreign countries are going to mostly stop sending these to china, because, china could try to steal their designs. This means China loses access to these machines for domestic manufacturing as well. Many factories are also not just low wage, but solid middle class factory jobs like some of those in electronics. Western countries aren’t going to seek permission from China, about where to move factories.

          In all economies, you have to trade for resources and stuff you cannot make, or for stuff you want; China needs to import large amounts of resources, so it cannot export those, and it needs large imports of resources and many other things to keep its current system going. Losing any exports, even if they are low wage jobs, is a significant loss for them. It’s important to remember there are least approximately 200 to 300 million low wage workers in Chinese cities (this does’t count the villages). Allegedly 400 million are middle and upper class in Chinese cities.

        • char says:

          It is not NK choice to close the boarders but the US. It is forced upon Korea. A lot of Norks worked outside before the latest round of the UN.

          China is 50% of the world market for a some of goods. If you include Russia, Iran, etc. and Chinese neighbors than it is for a lot of goods and if you also include countries like Turkey and Malaysia than it is for most goods so any assumption that isolating China is possible without it hitting the US harder is in my opinion foolish

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Gandalf,

          I am aware of all that, but, Xi’s failures are very great and the rest of the party doesn’t want him to drag them all down. They are all self-serving.

          Char,

          North Korrea absolutely is the one who shut down it’s borders. South Korea takes refugees, but, if North Korrea sees them crossing the border, the army will shhoot them.

  2. Soupcon says:

    My EV will not be powered by the my power utility but by photovoltaics on the roof of my house with the power stored in battery storage in the basement. As soon as financially possible I am going off grid, perhaps not entirely but certainly as much as is practically possible. As power is getting more and more expensive on a yearly basis and the price of voltaic cells is getting cheaper, break even point should hopefully be within 5 to 10 years.

    • MiTurn says:

      Curious to know the lifespan of the batteries before they need to be replaced.

      • Lance Manly says:

        My LGChem batteries are warrantied at 70% of capacity for 7 years. Since I don’t drain them on a daily basis I doubt I will outlive them. Battery life span is dependent on how many times the are depleted.
        The Power Wall was interesting but at the time it did not have the greatest warranty, that may have changed.

      • Thomas Roberts says:

        MiTurn,

        The lifespan of the batteries are increasing over time. It may also eventually be possible, to put them through a cheap process to reuse them. All the valuable materials in them can be recycled either way and already nearly all car batteries new and old are recycled. Eventually though, the batteries in a car might last as long as the car, maybe even after the car is junked, the battery can be renewed and sold as a used battery. It’s important to note, most electric cars have many small batteries.

        • Les Francis says:

          Nope.
          I installed large scale lead acid batteries for a living
          They had a life time if 15 – 20 years – more if properly maintained.

          There are still far more lead acid batteries being installed than “exotics”
          The modern batteries deteriorate even if not cycled – the chemicals inside degenerate.

          Coal has been made non price competitive by the “war on coal” heinous regulations and green levies.
          The coal plants can be made to be more efficient but try and get a permit to do it. You will be ham string by odious regulations.
          However easy to obtain gas is cheaper.

        • Thomas Roberts says:

          Lead acid batteries don’t have the energy density to power electric cars.

          As for home storage and maybe grid storage, I never hear the actual numbers on whether or not something like a flywheel energy storage system could be used in place of regular batteries. It would be interesting if they could make giant ones near wind mills with a thick concrete outer casing and then speed them up much higher.

          As for coal, it’s true that states are pushing natural gas for its supposed environmental benefits, but, totalled up, the environmental harm of fracking for natural gas is just as bad. If the money falls out for fracking though, the question is would states still push anti-coal legislation, even if it increases electricity prices? I don’t think they will. Once the money dries up for fracking, the state’s will have to backpedal on anti-coal legislation. There will probably be a couple of states that will try to resist backpedaling, but if, electricity prices look like they will rise, we will see what happens.

        • Ethan in NoVA says:

          Flywheels are good for holdover during a mains power loss and a generator spin up. You’re not going to charge your EV all night on a flywheel.

          And putting solar energy into a battery then charging other batteries from those (probably thru an inverter setup) means more losses as well. Better to charge it somehow during the sunlight.

    • Lee says:

      Ah, the ultimate greenie dream of disconnecting from the grid.

      All greenies should do it now and don’t worry about the cost – do it for Mother Earth. If you don’t you are a hypocrite that puts personal wealth ahead of every body else on the planet.

      So how much is that dream of going off grid going to cost you?

      Well first you are going to need solar panels. Next an inverter and one that can charge batteries. (If you are going to stay on the grid you’ll need to have a special inverter that doesn’t disconnect when the grid goes down.) And then multiple batteries to store electricity. Oh and don’t forget you’ll need a charging station for your EV as well.

      Now as far as going off grid is concerned, is the roof on your house big enough to handle the required number of panels and is the orientation good enough so that efficiency is reasonable?

      If your roof isn’t big enough well, that puts the brakes on going off grid. And if the orientation of your house is bad, you’ll have to compensate with more panels which brings you back to the above problem.

      So lets assume that your roof is big anough and situated so that you can get by with the minimum number of panels needed.

      So how many panels will you need?

      Well that depends on your energy consumption, your location and the weather.

      Now in many places in the world the amount of sunshine varies quite a bit during the different seasons.

      For example, my solar system here in Melbourne on a nice summer day will generate 6 to 12 times as much as on a crap day in winter.

      Now my electricity use in winter actually increases compared to a nice summer day as we need to use more electricity to power lights, fans, and all the other stuff that is used more in winter.

      We use solar boosted gas heating for hot water and have NG central heat.

      The fan the central heat system is a huge user of electrcity when turned on in winter. And if you have A/C inverter systems that can also be used for cooling/heating insummer/ winter you’ll have to factor that usage into the calculations as well.

      So let’s talk turkey. Your system will have to be engineered to provide your total consumption of electricity in the worst circumstances over a period of time.

      So let’s use my system as an example. In winter on a bad day we might get only 1 kilowatt hour of electricty (And I’ve even seen that during a totally crappy day in summer too). In summer we’ll get maybe 12 times a much on a good day.

      So in winter if I used 10 kilowatt hours of electricity during the day and wanted to go off grid I’d have to increase the size of my system by at least 10 times what it is now.

      And that doesn’t take into account charging losses and losses then again transforming the DC electricty back into AC electricity for use in the house. So that means even more panels.

      If you have ten crappy days in a row (which is quite common in Melbourne in winter) you’d use every bit of electricity genrated by your system and nothing would go into the batteries for storage either.

      So that brings you to the inverter. Your inverter will have to be a pretty good sized one to take advantage of the huge size of your system. Which means more money.

      (Lots of people here in Melbourne ‘overclock’ their systems by putting in 6.5kW ofpanels and a 5kW inverter as the output of the panels fall in winter. Of course the inverter then clips in summer when there are good conditions and people lose some of the electricity from the panels.)

      And with batteries you’ll have to have enough storage to take care of your daily use and enough backup to store electricity for day when the output of your panels is low.

      So, if I have a 1.5 kW system that provides 1 kilowatt hour of electricity on a crap winter day and I needed at least 10 a day, I’d have to put on at least 10 times as many panels on the roof or 15 kW.

      At say 300 watts per panel that means 50 panels, maybe three 10kW batteries, and a 15 kW inverter. Is my roof big enough? Yes. Is the orientation okay? Yes. (The three houses across the street from me wouldn’t be able to put up even 10 panels because of the style, trees, and orientation of their houses.)

      If your usage is higher than 10kWh per day then you’d have to adjust the number up.

      So how much are we talking about? Even in Oz where systems are cheap that would set you back around $A50,000 – 100,000. ANd we don’t get hit with extra property tax as you would in the USA if you put up a system.

      And finally, would the opportunity cost of the system even pay for the electricity you actually generated?

      • Anthony A. says:

        You forgot to mention the cost of the BIG lithium batteries needed in a storage system. Remember, at night there is no sun, and the batteries provide power. Now around here, it’s been as low as 80 F at night this time of year. Which means the A/C system is drawing a fair amount of power.

      • Gandalf says:

        Lee,

        My 10kw solar panel system is mounted on a south facing patio, as the patio covering. Made by Lumos, beautiful translucent panels without the ugly metal framing. The Lumossolar website shows their panels used on car ports, as rain covers for walkways, as sun shades on the side of buildings, etc. They just have to have access to the southern light. You would not want to put these beautiful panels on your roof.

        The system is hooked to the local electrical grid and I get paid back for the electricity when it is generating a net gain. I calculated back when I got them that it would take about 20 years to get the cost of the system back.

        At the time I got it 6 years ago, it required 40 panels to generate that much electricity. Last time I checked three years ago, it was half of those numbers of panels. The efficiency keeps improving.

        In the meantime, if the zombie apocalypse ever arrives, I’ll be good.

        • Sgt Grumble says:

          The successful conversion of a photon into an excited electron in silicon is a quantum event and occurs less than a third of the time. The theoretical maximum conversion efficiency for PVs is about 29%. So if you have the maximum efficiency home panels making 22% you are already at seventy-some percent. How much better can it get? PVs for satellites can crack into the mid thirties using other elements and advanced tech but there’s little prospect for that here on earth.

      • char says:

        Melbourne has the type of weather were it never freezes. It doesn’t need heating but more isolation. Then you wouldn’t need so much more energy in your winter

        • Lee says:

          “It doesn’t need heating but more isolation.”

          Really?

          It was 2 degrees the other morning when I went for my walk.

          The house will get down to 14 C inside on those cold nights and we NEVER keep the heat on at night. We don’t like it and it costs to much to kepp the house heated 24 hours a day.

          We do turn the heat on to get the temp up to around 20 C after both of us are up.

        • char says:

          2 degrees Celsius plus

          aka not freezing

      • Lisa_Hooker says:

        I have a well for my water. The pump requires a massive inverter and a lot of battery to handle the high inrush current starting the pump motor. Not a small drain when it’s running either. Then there’s the 100*F days for air conditioning and the -20*F bad winters. The size of the system is a deal breaker. If you’re in the Southwest and on city water it’s a very different story.

      • JC says:

        All that matters is coal is dying. The next step is to charge convict, and jail those that profit from it for crimes against humanity. And clawback ALL the money made.

        • Sgt Grumble says:

          Coal and every other means of generating electricity, heating or cooking has been a vast boon to all of humanity. Yes, even naked shivering vegans.

        • JC says:

          Sgt Grumble your problem is you haven’t wrapped your ahead around humanity is on the way out. not that much of a boon

    • leanfire_Queen says:

      > As power is getting more and more expensive on a yearly basis

      Power seems super cheap where I live, chances are that hydroelectric ends up being cheaper?

      What’s the main source of energy in your area?

    • Just Some Random Guy says:

      Speaking of EV….I’m flirting with the idea of getting one. But I was reading up on what it’s like to live with one. You need an outlet in your garage that is placed perfectly. You also need to spend $1500-2000 if you want a Stage 2 charger, otherwise it’s essentially a trickle charge. And you need an electrician to make sure your house can handle it, not all panels are wired to handle. Even newer houses. It’s potentially several thousand dollars to get everything hooked up. As EVs become more common, homes will start getting build or remodeled to accomodate it. But for now, it seems like a lot of hassle.

      And then I did a cost comparison using the EPA calculator. For the car I’m looking at, with today’s gas price, I’d save about $600 a year comparing extra electric cost vs gas cost. And that is assuming I get 100% of my electricity at home. If I buy it elsewhere, at a charging station on a road trip for example it’s a lot more. Meanwhile the cost of an EV compared to its ICE version (say a Q5 plug in vs a Q5 ICE) is $10K at least.

      I kind of like the idea of an EV but I think it’s still a few years away before it’s worth it, for me any way. Cost isn’t there and still too much hassle.

      • Les Francis says:

        If everybody in your street suddenly decided to charge their EV at home.
        Then the utility company would need to massively increase the size of the street reticulation.
        And then the neighbourhood power infrastructure and then the whole power system

        And then your electrical bill would need to go up massively to pay for it.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Les Francis,

          1. Read the last paragraph of the article and what it says about “idle capacity” and when many people charge up their EV. If you don’t understand the concept of idle capacity, you will never understand why utilities LOVE EVs.

          2. The utility you mentioned would LOVE nothing more than the scenario you outlined. That’s how utilities operate: a big capital investment that produces a steady revenue and income stream for decades. They build whole power plants on that model. That’s how utilities operate.

      • Phillip says:

        I have to laugh at the idea that owning an ev is a hassle. I have had one for 5 years and it is about the most haste free thing I enjoy. I drive into my garage and put a plug into the car. It charges by itself overnight cheaply. You can’t believe how nice it is never having to go out of your way to fill up your car, standing beside it while being wet, or cold, or hot, holding that muzzle. Now I work hard and could afford the car and I can see the extra up front cost dissuading someone, but the car itself is less hassle than using our toaster that I have to take out of the cupboard and plug in.

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          Honey, Bobby broke his arm and it’s bleeding. We need to go to the ER right now. Is the car charged up?

        • Just Some Random Guy says:

          I’ll assume you live in SoCal or similar where 45 degrees is considered a deep freeze.

        • Sgt Grumble says:

          You’ve got a⛽ car though, don’t you?

        • char says:

          I assume you can go to the ER on an “empty” tank. If not you should call for a car with a siren that can drive above the speed limit. If the ER is so far that you need a full tank than the faster time of a siren is needed

    • Tony22 says:

      Soupcon,

      Explore 12 volt LED lighting throughout your house while you are at it. You can run your dryer and AC with line power, but get closer to the mandatory minimum payment for electricity, which for us in Pigs Greed & Extortion (PG&E) territory, is $5 a month.

      Even refrigerators can run off solar and batteries:
      “A 12 volt compressor fridge is energy-efficient and mimics the fridge you have at home, with compressors specially built to be powered from a DC outlet (cigarette lighter).”

      “Some of them draw as much power as a smartphone or a headlamp, and sip just enough power from your battery to keep food and drinks cool.”

    • char says:

      Why do you want to go off grid? It is environmental seen bad, even if you exclude the batteries.

  3. R U Kiddin says:

    I’m thinkin’ nuclear will die too at some point. Have they figured out a better place to dump their waste than the ocean?

    Back in 2007, Electricity as a commodity hit $100 per megawatt. What a scare! Today on the PJM the wholesale price is about $30, way cheap!

    • andy says:

      Elon Mask can send nuclear waste into space, never to be seen again. Nothing he can’t solve.

    • leanfire_Queen says:

      https://www.globalenergyinstitute.org/average-electricity-retail-prices-map

      Electricity in CA and the North East costs DOUBLE what it costs where I live. So happy that I’m not in those 2 areas!!!

      • Wolf Richter says:

        leanfire_Queen,

        Ha, I got you beat. Here in San Francisco, my electricity bill, including my home office where all my computer equipment runs 24/7, is minimal because we don’t need AC.

        • fotos240 says:

          And here in central Florida, I’ve always said I take a pay cut from May until October, but I get a pay raise from November until April – all because of my A/C bill. ick!

        • Icanwalk says:

          “Coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco.” What Mark Twain never said.

        • DawnsEarlyLight says:

          What do you do for air circulation?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          We nearly always have some windows open, and those windows are big, and since there is nearly always a nice westerly breeze in SF, we get good air flow from the outside.

      • Lee says:

        What a bunch of pikers – take a look at electricity prices here in OZ….

        Current plan in our area is about 30 cents per kWh. A couple of suburbs over the price is around 25 cents. Different companies have different distributors so the price varies.

        South Australia – Adelaide – which gets a lot of electricity from renewbles has a price of about 38 cents per kWh, but their supply charge is cheaper at around 85 cents a day.

        That is one reason why huge numbers of people have put up solar systems here.

        They are cheap and get subsidies from various governments.

        As can be seen our supply charges are over the top as well.

        Nothing you can do about that though.

        • Les francis says:

          The panels are there to get the subsidies not to power the house

        • Lee says:

          “The panels are there to get the subsidies not to power the house.”

          Really?

          You can get a fully installed el cheapo 6.5 kw system here for under $3000 in Victoria if you qualify. Around $6000 or so for a little better one with no state subsidy.

          That will take care of a lot of the electricity a family of three will need during the day and most months except later fall, winter and early spring..

        • VintageVNvet says:

          Very high in comparison Lee!
          In tpa bay area the dukesters just raised our rate to approx 15 cents from 12, all ”fees” and taxes included, though there has been some mention that was because of forgiveness due to the virus, and will be coming down again.
          Last place we lived, it was less than a dime, all in; that was the southern boys FKA TVA, so likely more subsidy or something.
          With the advent of huge ”solar farms” in the hotter regions AND any kind of rational and reasonable National policies, laws, rules and regulations, there is absolutely no reason that WE the Peedons of each and every municipality cannot go back to the kind of electrical supply situation that prevailed when I was a kid, with small localized fossil fueled plants augmenting a system where everyone has enough solar and wind and hydro for ”most” uses feeding back into a local grid, etc.
          And, hold the negativity, I realize it won’t happen anytime soon in any place where profits for the puppets come first and foremost and the devil to the peedons.
          BTW, growing up in FL in the 1940-50 era we never had AC in any house, only real wood burning fireplaces… and the 1950 cottage now had only an oil burner originally; just one clear indicator of what Mr. Carrier did to what was paradise,,, time and enough for us all to leave here every spring, not come back until at least Thanksgiving!!

        • Lisa_Hooker says:

          @VV – could it be done? Sure. Will it be done? I refer you to the current Commonwealth Edison legislation bribery scandal in Illinois. It is not atypical.

        • VintageVNvet says:

          U R key rect Lisa, as usual!
          Lots of laughs when I moved to various ”fly over” places and new good friends told me their county was the most corrupt in USA; I pointed them at my home county in FL where every single sitting county commissioner was put in jail by the feds at one point… Very good friend in one of those places told me ”his” county had more ”unsolved” murders per capita in USA, upon hearing which I conceded his county may actually have been more corrupt.
          Everyone knew that any permit for large scale ”development” was easily obtained by putting unmarked envelopes full of Franklins and smaller on a certain desk… similar to SF in days of yore,,, etc., etc.

    • Sgt Grumble says:

      Yucca Mountain

  4. happy_man says:

    great summary, Wolf

    amazing trends! Looking back, who woulda thunk?

    I wonder how much of this transition away from coal would have happened without the interest rate suppression of the last decades?

    • MarMar says:

      In the early stages, not nearly as much. As detailed elsewhere on Wolf Street, fracking (both for oil and for gas) has been sustained by cheap debt. However, if natural gas had remained expensive, that would have only increased the opportunity for renewables to eat coal’s lunch.

      By now, the investments in natural gas are starting to look foolhardy. The tide is now turning against natural gas, both politically and economically, and very soon solar with on-site batteries and wind with on-site batteries will in most places beat the cost of not only new but also existing generation of all other types, including nuclear and natural gas.

      • Anthony A. says:

        Have you priced those very big, expensive storage batteries yet? We are a long way from making that battery economical for anyone.

        • MarMar says:

          Yes, I’m looking at the LCoE (levelized cost of energy) for solar or wind projects built with on-site storage, which is in some places (and in increasingly more places) competitive with existing, not just new, generation of other types.

        • Lee says:

          LCoE (levelized cost of energy) is another crap way that greenies use to try and justify batteries and other projects.

          It doesn’t include something called profit and most calculations use absurd assumptions that are not found in real real life.

        • Erle says:

          I remember when one could buy new submarine batteries for less than scrap. Is that big enough for you?

      • Briny says:

        It won’t be batteries, molten salts is a better storage medium and there are even infrared photovoltaic cells to turn the thermal energy back to electrical. That’s just one solution that has higher capacity and efficiency than lithium batteries. Current technology. I see quite a few other solutions in my readings but, as usual, 5-10 years away assuming (big assumption) they can get capital investment. That has always been the rub in energy conversion and storage technologies.

  5. Roger_In_Sydney says:

    Hey Wolf,
    Do you have any data on coal industry jobs? How good a job is Trump doing on protecting jobs in the coal industry like he promised?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Roger_In_Sydney,

      NOBODY can or could “protect” these jobs. The world of power generation has moved on. As have industrial users.

      Also, mechanization and automation in coal mining has a lot to do with the collapse in employment in the mines during the 1980s and 1990s. Look at a mountaintop mine to see how few people work in it, and how huge the equipment is that they operate.

      https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/CES1021210001

  6. energy geek says:

    Two other forces should be given credit for squashing coal generation. First, the railroads realized that the only way coal is of any value in the US is when it gets transported by rail to the power plants and industrial boilers. Duh…we should raise our prices because trucks can’t serve this market. And they did. I don’t have data, but when I was in the utility bus., the costs for shipping coal more than doubled in a few years. For natural gas, the utility needs more gas…so they build a pipeline, earn revenues on that investment. Fracking made gas cheap, so low gas prices and utility revenue potential moved generation from coal to gas.

    The other force was energy efficiency programs and the technologies that they spawned. Lighting used to be a great energy sales target for utilities…now LED lights have cut the sales by about 70-80% versus incandescent lights. These program’s incentives caused hundreds, maybe thousands of innovations that reduced energy use. The result, is that electrical energy consumption has largely been flat despite many more people using many more devices powered by electricity.

  7. Seneca's cliff says:

    As an added benefit ,in some water poor metro areas like Tampa or San Diego a third stage can be added to CCGT’s which uses the waste heat from the steam cycle to power a desalination process. But the drawback is if we ever hit some kind of gas crisis these cities will lose power and water at the same time.

  8. Seneca's cliff says:

    Ironically, one place there is plenty of coal fired electricity is in the embedded mining, smelting and manufacturing energy of Solar Panels made in China. So in the first few years ( until energy payback is reached) your are essentially burning Chinese coal when you use your solar panels. This is one of the reasons modern solar panels are cheap is that they are made with inexpensive ( but dirty) coal power. Countries with expensive electricity can no longer compete in the solar (full cycle) panel business for this reason.

    • MarMar says:

      As far as I can tell from some Googling, the energy payback time for solar panels ranges from under a year to perhaps 2.5 years. The maximum reasonable period mentioned is four years.

    • David Hall says:

      Thermal coal consumption in China was surging at the beginning of the year and expected to grow for some time.

      Metallurgical coal/coking coal is used for smelting steel.

      Global warming means ocean waters south of Florida are warmer than the long term average again.

  9. The drop in demand is global, including China, which set to cap levels in 2020. I doubt wind is scalable, if you build too many of these things you may alter the wind patterns, or create huge electromagnetic fields which are harmful to health, and perhaps communications. Renewables are mainly a financial benefit. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-review-2020/coal

    • Cem says:

      ‘may alter wind patterns’
      oh my hahahahaha that is quite the thought, thank you for keeping us all safe.

      “we find that for a typical mature hurricane, we get numbers in the range of 1.5 x 10^12 Watts or 1.3 x 10^17 Joules/day”,”This is equivalent to about half of the total electrical generating capacity on the planet” in ONE hurricane so you honestly think, and by think I mean regurgitate a statement someone else told you, that there is even a possibility of that occurring.

      Additionally there is zero evidence of electromagnetic fields being dangerous, how many people just TODAY hoped in an MRI and experienced zero negative effects?

      Also communications are affected by just about everything we interact with on a daily basis. WIFI doesn’t work as well in another room from the router? ITS THE WINDMILLS, or maybe its just the material separating the receiver on your device from the transmitter on the wifi router. A sparsely populated field of windmills would have no appreciable affect.

    • Marco says:

      I don’t know if it will change wind patterns, but it will kill all the birds.

    • Ethan in NoVA says:

      Too many wind turbines will slow the Earth’s rotation

  10. Paulo says:

    Good news story as far as energy use, pollution, GHG, etc. But…….

    What really needs to be done right now is helping coal country transition to something else. And no, this is not a time to preach coding. These folks worked hard for decades to keep the lights on and the steel mills operating. I have a real problem, (call me pinko), accepting that whole sectors of populations become throwaway with every innovation. This goes for all countries, and not just the US. I include my country Canada in this.

    I often read very disturbing comments in right wing sectors about California. No big secret why as tech has done well and the rust belt + coal country has declined. People sometimes need to scapegoat and hate in order to blame or vent. If we were truly all in this together I believe there would be more compassion in governing. Instead, the winners often protect themselves by co-opting political influence and power. When folks denigrate coal and miners I always think of the great Ken Burns documentary on country music, and the vivid portrayal of the region’s abject poverty. I also remember the bravery of the families of striking miners, and how they were beaten and shot at by company ‘pinkertons’, everywhere.

    There is a terrific article in Rolling Stone mag that details a very recent example called, ‘Inside the Harlan County Coal Miner Protest’. (2019) It paints a human picture of this WS article and data. It is well worth the read.

    We have dozens of shut down coal mines on Vancouver Island, most with a very violent past. In fact, active mining started here in the 1700s. Most miners were impoverished and many many bloody strikes resulted. In fact one owner, Robert Dunsmuir, was given a land grant of 20% of Vancouver Island in order to build a rail line just to transport his own company coal. Scandalous. Our last coal mine closed down in 2017, and then since reopened just a few years ago, very close to my home town of Campbell River. It employs a whopping number of 45 people. I think they call it being on life support. I have no clue why it is still operating.

    • Mary says:

      Whenever I read Wolf Street, I scan the comments looking for your name. Always worth reading.

    • fotos240 says:

      Speaking of Robert Dunsmuir, my family and I visited the coal baron Robert Dunsmuir’s home while visiting your neck of the woods last year – you know, Craigdarroch Castle. I was blown away by the place… so ostentatious, and now after reading your comments about the impoverished miners, I dislike that castle even more. I mean, how much does one guy need, for crying out loud. But that’s the story of the super rich, I guess.

    • RD Blakeslee says:

      Having lived in WV for 43 years now and understanding my place, I am glad to see somebody get beyond our stereotype, Paulo. Thank you.

  11. Massbytes says:

    As natural gas plants are pushing out coal for generating electriciy, utility scale batteries will do the same to natural gas.

    • Sgt Grumble says:

      Batteries generate nothing.

      • ah and the cost for a fuel storage container in an ICE engine is a lot less. assuming the laws of physics have not changed, making electricity does not add to the amount of energy available by the burning of fossil fuels.

      • char says:

        Batteries kill the none combine cycle gas power stations. They are the kind that spin up fast but use much more gas per kwh than combined cycle plants. Batteries also allow running plants to run on their most efficient stand. So while they do not generate electricity by them self they do save natural gas. They also make it easier to add renewables

  12. Massbytes says:

    At least for grid stability and “peaker” functionality.

  13. joe2 says:

    Every dog has his day, everyone gets a turn in the barrel, and every pundit and talking head predicts the future. Oh, and every clock is right sometime.
    I get a kick out of everybody absolutely deciding one thing or another.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      The article is looking at the past mostly, not the future. Read it! You might find it interesting. At least look at the charts. You might get a clue from the charts what the trends might look like in the future.

  14. Richard Patton says:

    I do not believe this for the following reasons:

    1) Coal has been competing with a highly subsidized (by investors) fracking industry. These E&P companies, and their service providers, are rapidly headed into bankruptcy. They are cash burning machines.

    2) Fracking is in decline. Drilling has been drastically reduced due to bankruptcy. The life of a well is only a few years, and well productivity declines quickly. In five years, they lose 80-90% of their production. Once that happens, gas supplies will go into deficit and prices will rise to triple what they are today. Coal for power production will be back in business.

    3) Powering the grid with sunshine and breezes will cost far more than either coal, nuclear or gas. Germany tried to do it. Their power costs tripled, and CO2 emissions did not go down at all. Now, they are opening new coal plants. I don’t want my utility bill tripled, and I don’t know anyone who does. It’s an elaborate way of burning money.

    4) HELE (high efficiency, low emissions) plants use coal and are almost as efficient as combined cycle gas plants. We’ve only built one, but we could build more to replace the aging fleet of coal burners we have now.

    5) I don’t know how long gas fracking will go on before we run out of high-quality rock to drill. I do know that well productivity is stagnating or going down. By comparison, we have vast reserves of low-cost coal.

    6) A large percentage of the gas surplus is associated gas produced when fracking for oil. Two big producers, Russia and Saudi Arabia, are dedicated to driving frackers out of business. Both of them have far lower costs than US frackers.

    In short, you are confusing a monetary policy, ZIRP, and its market-distorting effects with the long-term death of the largest, cheapest fossil-fuel reserve the US has – coal. I believe you are wrong.

    If you do not believe me, please tell me which of the above facts you disagree with. I will be happy to supply you with links and references.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Richard Patton,

      “I do not believe this for the following reasons…”

      No need to believe anything. Just look at the data and the charts. They show what’s actually happening. This is not anything supernatural that you have to “believe” in.

    • Tom Pfotzer says:

      Coal is cheap until you factor in environmental effects.

      Wind and solar don’t have fuel-input costs.

      What remains is to:

      * address smoothing the timing differentials between production and consumption of power (maybe batteries, maybe something else) and then to

      * address the transmission costs to move the power generated from where it’s generated to where it’s used.

      Next big problem is to learn to manufacture solar panels that use common, cheap, safe materials.

      Lastly, the most helpful thing we can do is to design buildings and appliances to use less power. LEDs have led the way, but the building envelope has great potential to change power consumption.

      As an example, I replaced a bank of four 2010-era computers with four 2019-mfg’d computers, and power consumption dropped by 75%, and the four new computers are 3X more capable.

      Furthermore, I changed the power input from 120VAC to 12VDC and consolidated the transformer functions formerly on 4 computers onto one high-efficiency (92% with power factor of .9) transformer which serves all 4 computers.

      There are many, many things that can be done on supply side and demand side to manage the power problem.

      Coal is always and forevermore going to have input, pollution, and transport costs. Not going away.

      Let’s stay focussed on the strategic: we need low-cost (all in, incl environmental) generation, and we need vastly reduced consumption.

      Technology (what humans know how to do) … technology’s function is to get more for less. It works.

      Lastly, re: Paulo’s remark about economic dislocation of coal-industry jobs – same for steel, textile, ship-building, applicances and secretaries – there is a incumbent responsibility of the individual to be aware of and adapt to a changing environment.

      I agree that a responsible, ethical society should buffer the impacts of structural econ change, but there’s quite a bit of adaptive inertia which needs to be laid squarely at the doorstep of the individual.

      Just to reiterate: I also agree that our “elites” have really let us down and treated us like chumps. But solving that problem is going to require some really big-time individual initiative, which…(is it just me, or do others see this too?) seems to be in short supply.

      R. Patton: my cursory review of HELE tech is that with major cap inv, it’s max contribution to efficiency is another 20%. That just gets it to parity with gas-fired combined cycle. Still leaves the above-stated fundamental problems un-addressed. Doesn’t seem worthwhile; it’s a step side-ways.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Very good summary IMO Tom, thank you.
        When the whole environmental challenges of coal, fuel oil and the nukes became clear to me, followed by the rapid development of various kinds of ”scrubbers” that not only cleansed the exhaust of coal, etc., but also seemed to be a good source of almost free useful chemicals, I really thought we would be better off with more and more modern coal consuming power plants.
        Why this did not happen decades ago, and why it is not on the front burner of environmentalists as well as investors is still a mystery to me, especially since I live in a small city with a trash to power facility that supplies mega watts of electricity with a very clean exhaust profile that I view frequently.
        I suppose it must be more political profiteering, as usual, eh?

  15. raxadian says:

    “stagnating demand for electricity”

    ?

    We consume today more electricity that we did a decade ago and everything seems to indicate that will just keep growing and growing for at least a couple of decades more when population growth will start to go into negative numbers and so that trend will slow down.

    There is more demand for electric power than ever before, the problem is that the supply is also bigger that ever before.

  16. R2D2 says:

    US — as so often these days — looks very much like the UK, just a few decades behind.

    UK coal production collapsed -95% between 2000 and 2020, and -99% between 1920 and 2020.

  17. roddy6667 says:

    These are US numbers. All over the world, hundreds of coal-fired generating and municipal heating plants are being built. China alone raised the cap on planned coal plants to allow 2 new facilities to be built every month for the next 12 years.

  18. c1ue says:

    The ongoing shale fracking shakeout is going to affect both natural gas supply and price.
    A significant amount of the natural gas supply on market today is because of oil fracking.
    And a major problem with natural gas is that it is really difficult to transport in a fluid supply situation. In particular, you need pipelines and both stable supply and demand to function.
    The polar vortex, years ago, showed how this is a problem: consumption of natural gas shot up 200%+ – there was simply insufficient supply, so prices went over $200 MMBtu briefly (vs. the $1.80-$2.50 we see today).

  19. Escierto says:

    Interesting to see that several people refused to believe the facts illustrated by the charts. In their alternate universe constructed with alternative facts, coal is the victim of a conspiracy. It must be the Deep State. Or George Soros.

  20. Anthony says:

    great article, Wolf

  21. Mike says:

    Coal? Did you know when coal is burned actually radioactive materials are also release into the air? That is why around coal plants / regions number of cancer patients is higher. Solar and hydrogen is the future.

  22. Anthony says:

    In the UK we have sixty days of the year with no wind. We also have, in winter, days with 17 hours of darkness and seven hours of gloom. Oh and solar panels don’t work under snow, if you didn’t know that…..so that’s Canada out… lol

    • MiTurn says:

      I live in the US close to the Canadian border and I know a lot of folks who use solar. Evidently this latitude is not solar-cell friendly, as the sun is always relatively low in the horizon. And it takes more cells to make up for this loss in efficiency. In addition, we have short winter days. Many of the folks I know who are ‘off the grid’ use propane generator backup. They frequently get most of their power from the generator, rather than the solar cells.

      The reality of geography.

      • don says:

        Well I suppose if you no longer have a domestic iron and steel producing industry you don’t need coal, especially if the Chinese are supplying all your pig iron and steel and generic drugs at cheaper slave labor prices and with child labor too. There’s always trade offs. Did the failing Bay Bridge rebuilt steel rod anchors come from China?

  23. Phillip says:

    I find it interesting that so many people are concerned about an industry that has such a horrible record of destroying the lives of the workers and the local environment of the areas where it is done. I grew up in an old coal mining area, my grandfather died in a mine accident, and it is no secret that most miners would always be happy for their own children to escape such a nasty, life destroying job. There is a good reason folk songs about coal mining were so bleak. And the towns where it occurred are scarred, poor places to grow up in.

    • Xabier says:

      The bravest and the best man I know left mining at the age of 18 and went into the British army -eventually the SAS – and he found being shot at and bombed, initially in Aden, much less stressful. One truly horrific accident precipitated his departure.

      It is is horrible to contemplate how much suffering of men, and animals, in mines built industrial civilisation.

      Nor should we overlook the Chinese miners of recent years, where safety standards have been very poor I believe.

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Your comment , “It is is horrible to contemplate how much suffering of men, and animals, in mines built industrial civilisation.”
        Is very true X.
        And, equally sad to say, that horror is not confined to mining, though that may be the worst of it: consider the huge number of people who died to complete the RRs across USA in the mid to late 1860 era;;; and then the huge number of people who died to complete the GG Bridge that Wolf and I love in the 1930 era ;;; and then the huge number of people who died to ”save the world” from the various and sundry ”fascisms”, etc., of the entire 20th century.
        Unfortunately, the deaths of workers in SO many places throughout the world, China and USA that I have read about recently, not to mention the other still Fascist places, has NOT stopped…
        And IMHO really and truly needs to stop, with all folks being fully informed of risks of their ”job” and fully supplied with proper PPE,,, and many/all of the tasks that are not safe with any PPE being designated and designed to be done by robots, as is clear that SO many of those jobs SO dangerous to humans and animals can be done today.
        This really appears to be SO easy, and SO correct, that it really does amaze what is left of my mind that it is not happening ASAP at all work venues right now.
        BTW, what I read of AU coal is that they are leading the world in actually implementing these kinds of protections,,, I hope that is true…

  24. Lars says:

    Hmm, in some Wolf Street articles I read that the whole US fracking business is basically bankrupt and soon out of business. So for how long can natural gas be so cheap in the US? I doubt King Coal is dying, too early to write him off.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Lars,

      People wondered about that in 2012 when I first started writing about this situation.

      https://wolfstreet.com/2012/08/16/natural-gas-and-the-brutal-dethroning-of-king-coal/

      That was eight years ago, and it turns out, that was just the beginning 😁

      • VintageVNvet says:

        Thanks for putting this link to your 2012 article up here today Wolf.
        As I had suspected, the ‘dethroning” of King Coal was another example of the ”oil company presidents” ( and I include ray gun, who used to fly into TX regularly to hear instructions from his masters there ) using their clout, officially and otherwise” to raise their income and the incomes of their supporters, similar in fact to the savings and loan debacle earlier…
        When at the gas pumps and hearing folks lamenting the high prices in those days, my reply was, “What do you expect when you elect an oil company president?”
        And so it goes today, and has been going, as we continue to elect a pres who is beholden only to a very very small portion of supporters, eh?

  25. NoFreeLunch says:

    Coal miners are a fairly small unorganized voting block. Corn growers for ethanol are much larger. I wonder if they realize more EV means less gasoline, and less ethanol. I have seen the reaction from politicians from both parties who regretted touching the ethanol “third rail”. Finally, there are no large scale recycle plans for wind turbine blades or PV cells. If that is not being factored into the economics of those energy sources, it is borrowing from the future, like previous energy sources. The recycle for both certainly isn’t positive value, or it would be happening now.

  26. tom25 says:

    With all the doom & gloom and talk of the coming depression
    I will wait to call the end for coal.

    That lump of coal will burn easier than that wind mill or solar panel.
    Bring on that global warming. If I have to go back to our roots & become a full time hunter/gatherer…. I’ll take tropics over glaciers.

  27. Island teal says:

    Wolf…great article and so many good comments.
    Always interesting to see how your topics are viewed world wide 😊😊

  28. Ballard Dan says:

    It seems like when the going gets tough renewables don’t always cut it. Here’s a interesting article about the natural gas pipeline explosion in B.C. that happened in October 2018 when hydro is minimal in the PNW.

    https://www.wweek.com/news/2018/12/12/a-natural-gas-pipeline-explosion-in-british-columbia-spikes-prices-in-portland-and-raises-questions-about-oregons-energy-future

    I live in western Washington state and personally believe we should decommission some if the older coal fired generators, but keep some of the more up to date generators online or on standby. It’s like a retirement account, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and keep a diversified portfolio!

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Ballard Dan,

      Wait a minute… it was the fossil fuel pipeline that exploded, not a hydro-electric dam. You need to look at this where the problem is: the pipeline full of fossil fuels, and why they’re dangerous, and occasionally unreliable. It’s like when a coal train or an oil train derails, you would say that it shows a problem with wind turbines??? Dude, come on.

      • Ballard Dan says:

        The problem was the timing of the pipeline explosion during the fall and when hydro power generation was minimal. Bad timing and the Willamette Weekly article touched on that. In the Pacific Northwest we also had to conserve electricity in March 2019 due to unexpected cold streak of weather that limited the expected snowmelt runoff for hydro generation. I’m no fan of fossil fuels nor an expert, just an observation from a commoner and hope the experts have this transition to renewables figured out. The next 5-10 years is going to be really interesting with power generation in the western United States and making sure it’s reliable and not too expensive for most households.

        • char says:

          Gold-plating costs money. You can make the system so that a exploded pipeline is unnoticeable or you conserve energy when such a thing happens. Second system is much cheaper

          Household energy demand is an essential that needs to be provided* by the government just like the government needs to make sure the population is not hungry.

          * I don’t mean nationalized but when needed subsidized or if it is to cheap, taxed to stop waste.

  29. Saylor says:

    Some things work okay when centralized, some centralization is good for short term and medium term but long term…, not so much. I use to provide lectures on this during my manufacturing years. It is my belief that power generation (and food production) should be ‘at the largest’ a ‘regional’ function for the best security and societal function.
    I see power generation becoming more ’boutique’ in the future. Various sources augmenting each other.

  30. Saylor says:

    And the smaller the ‘region’ the better!

Comments are closed.