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Trump’s coal revival plan won’t work; clean energy tech is already cheaper

Lucas Mearian | Nov. 16, 2016
The cost of solar power systems has dropped 30% this year alone

While President-elect Donald Trump hopes to revive the coal industry by slashing CO2-reducing regulations, industry analysts say clean energy has become so cheap it will continue to increase its domination of the energy industry.

Trump is likely to roll back several of the current administration's clean energy policies, such as the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar power deployments, the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan (CPP) and U.S. support for the 195-nation Paris Agreement.

Raj Prabhu, CEO of the Mercom Capital Group, a clean energy research firm, said that the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan (CPP) might be the first casualty.

That plan requires states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil generators to about 1,560 million metric tons in the 2030-40 decade, substantially below their 2005 and 2015 levels of 2,416 metric tons and 1,891 metric tons, respectively.

U.S. Coal Production EIA

If the CPP were eliminated, the U.S. would likely see fewer coal-fired plant retirements due to carbon emissions and less impetus for the procurement of utility-grade solar power. However, since the CPP's targets don't take effect until the start of the next decade, this is a longer term dampener for renewables, according to MJ Shiao, director of solar research GTM Research.

And, even with the dissolution of the CPP, the number of coal-fired generators is still expected to be reduced by about one-third through 2030, or by about 60 gigawatts of capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

In recent years, U.S. coal production has steadily declined.

Last year, production dropped 10.3% year over year to its lowest levels since 1986, according to the EIA's annual coal report released last week.

Coal's share of total electricity generation, which was 50% in 2005 and 33% in 2015, is predicted to fall to 21% in 2030 and to 18% in 2040, according to the EIA.

Today, gas-fired power plants produce about 33% of U.S. power, nuclear plants produce about 20% and hydroelectric generators (dams) create 6%. Other renewables, including biomass, wind, solar and geothermal source account for another 7%.

And wind and solar are by far the fastest growing energy sectors.

renewable energy vs. coal 

Last year, new installations of solar power capacity surpassed both wind and coal for the second year in a row, accounting for 32% of all new electrical capacity, according to a new report from GTM Research.

By comparison, in 2015, the productivity capacity of U.S. coal mines decreased for the fourth year in a row to 1,165 million tons, a decline of 6.3% from the 2014 levels.

 

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