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Renewable energy has now produced more electricity in the U.S. than coal for 40 days straight

Posted at 1:32 PM, May 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-05 15:32:03-04

Lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic have lowered air pollution , allowed wild animals to roam — and moved the U.S. one step closer to clean energy.

During the economic slowdown that has resulted from stay-at-home orders , renewable energy is getting a boost. Power generation from sources like solar, wind and hydropower have overtaken coal-fired power in the United States for a record 40 straight days.

According to a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), April's boost not only comes from low gas prices, warmer weather and more renewables added to the grid — but also from a massive dip in electricity demand as Americans stay home. IEEFA said the findings mark an important "milestone" in the country's transition to clean energy .

This is the first time renewables have overtaken coal in electricity generation every day in a single month. It measured the time between March 25 and May 3, but the trend is expected to continue.

The longest continuous stretch previously was April 2019, which saw nine consecutive days of renewables overtaking coal. In total, renewables beat coal on just 38 days last year.

The high cost of coal typically means it is the first fuel choice cut by utility companies when demand is down; renewables are cheaper to operate and often backed by clean-energy regulations. In April, coal-fired generation held just 15.3% of the market share, a massive decrease.

According to IEEFA, January marked the first time in decades — and possible in the entire history of the U.S. power industry — that coal's market share fell below 20%. In 2008, it held over half of the market.

IEEFA predicted renewable energy in the U.S. could exceed coal annually in 2021, but is now hopeful the pandemic could accelerate the change — despite the Trump administration's efforts to revive the coal industry.

In addition to promising more jobs for the coal industry, President Trump has also continuously voiced his distrust of renewables, specifically wind power, saying the wind "only blows sometimes."

"I never understood wind," the president said last year. "I know windmills very much. I've studied it better than anybody. I know it's very expensive... They're noisy. They kill the birds. You want to see a bird graveyard? Go under a windmill someday. You'll see more birds than you've ever seen ever in your life."

But wind and solar power have become increasingly efficient and affordable in recent years.

According to EIA, while electricity consumption overall is expected to fall 3% this year, coal-fired power demand is projected to feel the brunt of the decline, potentially falling 20%. Renewables, however, are expected to grow 11% due to their low operating costs, EIA predicts.