US coal usage crashes to 40 year lows, no blackouts

How? How did they do it? From the EIA:

EIA expects total U.S. coal consumption in 2018 to fall to 691 million short tons (MMst), a 4% decline from 2017 and the lowest level since 1979. U.S. coal consumption has been falling since its peak in 2007, and EIA forecasts that 2018 coal consumption will be 437 MMst (44%) lower than 2007 levels, mainly driven by declines in coal use in the electric power sector.

The electric power sector is the nation’s largest consumer of coal, accounting for 93% of total U.S. coal consumption between 2007 and 2018. The decline in coal consumption since 2007 is the result of both the retirements of coal-fired power plants and the decreases in the capacity factors, or utilization, of coal plants as increased competition from natural gas and renewable sources have reduced coal’s market share.

In 2007, coal-fired capacity in the United States totaled 313 gigawatts (GW) across 1,470 generators. By the end of 2017, 529 of those generators, with a total capacity of 55 GW, had retired. So far in 2018, 11 GW of coal-fired generating capacity has retired through September, and another 3 GW are expected to retire in the final three months of the year, based on data reported to EIA by plant owners and operators. If these plants retire as planned, 2018 will be the second-highest year for coal retirements. Another 4 GW of capacity are planning to retire by the end of 2019.

Only one, relatively small, new coal-fired generator with a capacity of 17 megawatts is expected to come online by the end of 2019. The decline in coal-fired capacity is expected to further reduce coal consumption: EIA’s latest Short-Term Energy Outlook expects power sector coal consumption to fall 4% in 2018 and 8% in 2019.

One of the main drivers of coal retirements is the price of coal relative to natural gas. Natural gas prices have stayed relatively low since domestic natural gas production began to grow in 2007. This period of sustained, low natural gas prices has kept the cost of generating electricity with natural gas competitive with generation from coal. Other factors such as the age of generators, changes in regional electricity demand, and increased competition from renewables have led to decreasing coal capacity.

Environmental concerns have also played a role in coal retirements. Coal retirements were highest in 2015, driven in part by stricter emissions standards required by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, which went into effect in April of that year for coal- and natural gas-fired power plants. Instead of investing in emissions control technologies, many smaller power plants that operated at lower capacity factors were retired before the new standards were implemented. Some plants applied for and received one-year extensions, which contributed to retirements in 2016.

Like this:

Yes, they used gas. They have a domestic reservation policy for gas which gave generators security of supply and which easily absorbed any intermittency derived from rising renewables output.

The unconventional gas revolution delivered it:

In Australia, the unconventional gas revolution delivered a higher proportional increase in gas reserves than it did in the US.

But we have no domestic gas reservation. Instead we gave it all to a foreign gas cartel that has gouged the local market mercilessly resulting in a failed market and political chaos.

Labor must strengthen the ADGSM with a price target of $5-6Gj as its first act in power and stop all LNG imports in their tracks. If not, it’s 50% renewables target will lead to huge utility price increases.


  1. From that rag, The Australian:

    Maligned as a rejected fossil whose time was up, coal has just knocked iron ore from its perch as our top export earner. (David Uren)

    Australians don’t have the guts to put the brakes on coal extraction in a “houses and holes” economy. Ye shall reap what ye sow.

    • St JacquesMEMBER

      Just my guess, but from what I’ve read, it seems that the Adani mine will not really change world output much because it will probably cause a roughly equal amount of capacity to close, a lot of it here in Australia. The main damage will be the damage done to existing coal communities due to unemployment being brought forward rather than total increased coal consumption. Totally against the Adani mine btw, as much as for local enviromental reasons, ie water, etc as for the unemployment it will cause in the premature closing of existing, much more labour intensive mines.

  2. HadronCollision

    I had no idea there was so much coal planned for the galilea ex #stopadani (which let’s be honest based on this alleged sinking of dewatering bores in contravention of it’s enviro conditions should see it shut down) and all that ground and surface water gone.

    cognitive dissonance given the drought.

    humans don’t deserve to survive, really.

    • With reference to CO2 emissions, natural gas is only slightly less harmful than coal. I’m reasonably confident that the unused USA coal will find a market elsewhere (India?). It seems Getup, Greens, etc need to be honest in their campaigning as almost all they are achieving is driving jobs offshore, increasing concentration of wealth and pushing up power prices and domestic reliance on coal.

      • ResearchtimeMEMBER

        Incorrect on several accounts. First, coal is a relatively low value product that needs really good infrastructure. Much of the coal in the US is economically landlocked, and sending it through via rail in the Rockies is totally uneconomic, and only two ports capable of shipment; for virtually everything (trust me I have looked). Shipping via the Eastern Appalachians and southern ports are killed via freight/shipping costs. US coal, typically goes no-where… except the US.

  3. 84% from coal, gas, nuclear – this is supposed to prove we can easily go to 50% – 80% renewables without any issues.
    Let’s stop coal exports. You don’t mind explaining, in a nation already running a severe and chronic CAD, just how this is to be overcome while at the same time killing all dairy cows, all pigs, all sheep and a fair swag of beef cattle – altogether knocking $120B off our exports.
    Oh I know MMT – we can just print it!!!

      • I’m curious what the answer is R2 & how we get there? I mean actual transitional solutions & counterfactuals to Flawse’s concerns?

      • We build as much renewables as we can, as quickly as we can, and if there’s a shortfall, we conserve energy and live less energy-intensive lifestyles. Somehow humanity survived for hundreds of thousands of years without fossil fuels. We can do it again.

        That’s the general plan; specifics are for society as a whole to work out.

      • I agree, go mad on renewables. Timelines might still be longer than some would hope for. Asking a spoiled ‘aspirational’ society to volunteer a lifestyle loss via less energy will be interesting to see, as would a starving revenue addicted government. Upending the global Monopoly board in any hurry would have a bigger effect than Genghis……. Whom we would probably need to pull it off…….

      • “Somehow humanity survived for hundreds of thousands of years without fossil fuels.”, R2M I think you mean “humanity survived for hundreds of thousands of years without fossil fuels, with a life expectancy of 40”. Couple of months ago heard that my 80 year old uncle had nearly killed himself freezing in his flat, too scared to put on the heating in that renewables utopia called South Australia, which by pure coincidence has the most expensive electricity in the world.

      • Life expectancy has little to do with fossil fuels and more to do with science and medicine, and especially antibiotics. That’s your first obvious mistake.

        And dying of cold in South Australia? You have got to be kidding.

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