Friday, December 23, 2011

Electricity From Gas & Renewables Set All-Time Records And Coal Power Falls Sharply

The historic shift to gas and renewables and away from coal to make electricity gains momentum almost every month.  Coal generation is down 12% from its peak in 2007 and is back to 1996 production levels, while gas and renewables set all time power production records during 2011.

The latest EIA data indicates that US electricity from coal-fired power plants in 2011 will be less than in 1996, while natural gas electricity will have more than doubled between 1996 and 2011.  Renewables other than hydro will have increased 150% in the same time period.

Drawn from the EIA December monthly report ( and archived data, here are the numbers:

On a rolling 12 month basis through September 2011, coal generation provided 1,788,203 thousand megwatt-hours or less than 1,795,196 thousand megawatt-hours coal provided in 1996.  Coal-fired generation peaked in 2007 at 2,016,456 thousand megawatt-hours and is down 12% from its peak.

By contrast, natural gas power plants produced 455,056 thousand megawatt-hours in 1996 but 999,811 thousand megawatt-hours on a rolling 12 month basis through September 2011. The 2011 gas power production will be a record  Gas more than doubled and is taking electricity market share from coal.

What about renewables other than hydro power?  In 1996, they provided 75,796 thousand megawatt-hours, with most coming from biomass power plants, and now produce 187,655 thousand megawatt-hours, with wind becoming a large producer. 

Not including the considerable hydro production, the other renewables today provide about 8% of the combined electricity coming from coal and gas.  With hydro, total renewables provide about 24% of the combined power coming from coal and gas.

The combination of gas and renewables will likely provide more power than coal by 2014.

These trends of coal generation falling and gas and renewable production rising will almost certainly continue and quicken in 2012.


  1. Dear John,

    I really value your perspective on energy issues, and I think you bring a balanced, reasoned voice to the discussion.

    I also regularly read the Freakonomics blog, and they recently posted an article about how they perceive a solar bubble. You can read it here:

    As someone who seems to understand these issues more than me, I hope that you will dedicate an upcoming post to responding to the issues raised by the Freakonomics writers.


  2. Thank you for the positive feedback. Look for a posting on the freakonomics piece int the next few days.