Coal is continuing to fall. According to the EIA, coal shipments within the U.S. are consistently declining. As they state, “Nearly 600 million short tons (MMst) of coal was shipped to the U.S. electric power sector in 2018, the lowest level since 1983.” And specifically for electricity: “Coal shipments to the electric power sector in 2018 were 7% (47 MMst) lower than the previous year. “
It’s interesting to note that the EIA recently put out an energy flow diagram to track the total fossil fuel usage in the country. The collected data shows that in 2018 alone, “80% of domestic energy consumption originated from fossil fuels.” And as this diagram that the EIA put out shows, coal has fallen by a large amount when accounting for total fossil fuel usage in the country.
Extrapolating the Data on Coal
If coal continues to fall, then natural gas will have to rise to make up for a dearth in coal plants. Because coal accounts for the second largest amount of electricity generation in the United States, will this also mean that the rest of the country will need more nuclear plants as well?
Nuclear energy is close behind coal in electricity generation after all. And renewables (the most notable being Wind energy) don’t even produce half the megawatt hours as nuclear (on a national average), so it will be some time until renewables catch up or can produce on par with coal.
But that’s when we look at the Nation as a whole. If Texas continues to outpace coal production with wind energy, they might be more apt to adapt to a continued reduction of coal. In Texas, ERCOT said that about 22 percent of electricity came from wind. This is just slightly higher than the 21% by coal, but it offers a snapshot into the state’s future.
This is all despite the fact that many experts feel that coal will stick around in the Lone Star State for quite some time. After all, coal is still a huge part of the economy.
As the Houston Chronicle states, Texas has seen some of the most notable declines in coal-generated power as everyone else. Their biggest coal mine, the Kosse Mine near Waco, was down 16 percent last year, and will only continue declining as plants all over the country close down.
The aforementioned Houston Chronicle article has this to say about trends in the country: “The number of active coal mines in the United States has fallen by more than half over the past decade to 671 mines in 2017 from 1,435 mines in 2008.”
But as coal plants are phased out, some suppliers are worried that prices will rise as supply shortens. And they very well could rise for areas that rely more on coal, like the Midwestern and Northeastern states.
Texas shouldn’t be as affected, and the reduction of coal plants will most likely follow a more gradual rate for the time being. Which means that the 3% drop in coal-generated electricity by 2020 will most likely stem from the higher concentrated areas in the Northeast.