Renewables To Surpass Coal By 2021

It’s not a good time to be in the coal business.

Based on current trends, sources of renewable energy should surpass energy produced by coal in the United States by the end of 2021.

A recent CNN article goes into details on this inevitable transition. CNN’s information was derived from the Institute of Energy Economic and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Image credit: Annette Gibbs

Coal’s impending demise is mostly due to competing energy sources, namely, natural gas. However, wind and solar power have grown at rapid rates making the role of natural gas as being a “bridge fuel.” Also, aging coal plants and pressure from environmental concerns are speeding up the demise of coal plants across the country.

PJ Deschenes, a partner at Greentech Capital Advisors, (an investment bank with expertise on clean energy) had this to say about this energy transition – “The next piece of the energy transition is very close at hand. Coal is coming offline as fast or faster than anticipated.”

To shed light on how quickly this transition is occurring, its notable that coal actually provided the country with half of its energy needs between 2000 and 2010. Natural gas replaced coal as the most used energy source in 2016. While the natural gas boom was occurring, renewable energy started to experience major growth as well.

Case in point is the fact that Murray Energy, the largest private coal mining company in the U.S., declared bankruptcy just last month. Also, Navajo Generation Station, the largest coal plant in the West, just closed down for good. The pace and size of coal plants being shut down is something hard to ignore. This massive transition is happening at a pace that is surprising to many in the energy industry.

In fact, it is expected that the country’s use of coal will fall from 28 percent in 2018 to 22 percent in 2020. The “crossover” year is predicted to occur by 2021, according to Dennis Wamsted, analyst at the IEEFA. He expects sources of renewable energy to overtake coal, at the very latest, by 2022.

Another notable example this transition already occurring can be seen in the Lone Star State. Not long ago, coal reigned supreme in Texas. However, in recent years, there have been major wind farms put to use. So much so that wind now accounts for 22 percent of the state’s energy needs, while coal currently supplies 21 percent.

What’s the underlying impetus here? Economics, of course. The cost of solar power and wind power are financially very attractive. Otherwise, this energy transition would not be happening nearly as quickly as we are witnessing.

Of course, a major part of the renewable energy story must include energy storage. Reliable and sufficient energy storage systems must be in place for when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. The good news is that prices for energy storage are falling quickly as well.

It won’t be much longer before wind and solar power are the new kings of energy production!

Toyota To Turn Coal Site Into Solar Site

In another example of corporations starting to see the value in solar, Toyota has announced a plan to develop a large scale solar plant on a coal site in Kentucky.

This post is courtesy of a recent article from

This project is part of the car manufacturer’s larger plan of purchasing 365 MW of solar electricity per year from contractors in the South and Appalachia regions of the country.

Credit: Kenny Stanley via RH Group

The size of the solar panel system comes in at 100 MW and will cost approximately $130 million. A 700 acre reclaimed mining site is where the panels will be set up. This particular project will also create somewhere between 50 and 100 new jobs. It is expected to be completed by 2021.

Adam Edelen, current Democratic candidate for Governor in Kentucky, a coal company – RH Group, and EDF Renewables – a French Renewable Energy company are the three parts of this collaboration.

At first glance, it may seem very strange that a coal company would be involved in a renewable energy project, but their reasoning is sound. “It doesn’t matter whether you care about the environment or not, this is pure economics.” – Ryan Johns (vice president of business development at RH Group. It’s a win-win-win. The land gets put to use again, money is made on cheap solar power, and the local economy gets a boost with job creation.

This partnership with RH Group is part of Toyota’s plan of being carbon negative by 2050. Toyota will now also be considered one of the major corporate players in the wave of companies going green.

Kentucky’s solar capacity would triple when this project is finalized. This should not be surprising to anyone as the state has not exactly been a leader in the adoption of solar power. In fact, the state’s restrictive net metering laws have made payback periods for solar much longer than what is typically available in other states.

Another reason why this project is being considered in Kentucky is the fact that natural gas has all but killed coal companies in the region. While RH Group is not abandoning their coal business, they admit that it makes good financial sense to at least take advantage of the opportunity that solar represents to help diversify their energy portfolio.

Assuming this project is a success, Johns plans on persuading other coal companies to do similar projects on their unused coal sites.

In a way, Toyota is living up to their slogan, “Moving Forward”, by investing in solar power.

We can expect large corporations and many smaller ones to continue to invest heavily into solar power in the coming years.