Since the 1880s, burning coal has generated more electricity in the U.S. than any other source. But, cleaner technologies are increasingly gaining market share.
“Ten years ago, coal was producing around 50 percent of U.S. electricity and today that’s down to around a third.” [said] Doug Vine, with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. He says natural gas is largely responsible for the shift. It now generates about as much electricity as coal.
Extracting and burning natural gas is controversial, but its combustion emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal. And Vine says it can also support more clean power, like wind. “Natural gas is a technology that can be brought on very quickly so it can be back-up or support for renewable electricity sources.”
From Yale Climate Connections.Wind currently generates about five percent of all electricity in the U.S. but in some states, it’s much higher. Kansas and South Dakota each get more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind. In Iowa, it’s more than 35 percent.
Some of this is due to fracking, which raises its own environmental concerns which are different from (and on the whole not quite a bad as) those associated with coal. Some of this is due to dramatically declining prices of renewable energy sources. Some of this is due to a drop in global demand due economic slumps in Europe and slowed growth in China.
Coal consumption long ago almost vanished in uses other than electricity generation, although a very small percentage of total output is used for industrial purposes. Coal use for space heating, water heating and transportation has basically completely ceased.