The Cheap Energy Revolution Is Here, and Coal Won’t Cut It

Wind and solar are about to become unstoppable, natural gas and oil production are approaching their peak, and electric cars and batteries for the grid are waiting to take over. This is the world Donald Trump inherited as U.S. president. And yet his energy plan is to cut regulations to resuscitate the one sector that’s never coming back: coal. 

Clean energy installations broke new records worldwide in 2016, and wind and solar are seeing twice as much funding as fossil fuels, according to new data released Tuesday by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF). That’s largely because prices continue to fall. Solar power, for the first time, is becoming the cheapest form of new electricity in the world.

But with Trump’s deregulations plans, what “we’re going to see is the age of plenty—on steroids,” BNEF founder Michael Liebreich said during a presentation in New York. “That’s good news economically, except there’s one fly in the ointment, and that’s climate.”

Here’s what’s shaping the future of power markets, in 15 charts from BNEF:

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, UNEP

Government subsidies have helped wind and solar get a foothold in global power markets, but economies of scale are the true driver of falling prices. Unsubsidized wind and solar are beginning to outcompete coal and natural gas in an ever-widening circle of countries.

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

The U.S. may not be leading the world in renewables as a percentage of the grid, but a number of states are exceeding expectations. 

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, EIA

Wind and solar have taken off—so much so that grid operators in California are facing some of the same challenges of regulating the peaks and valleys of high-density renewables that have plagued Germany’s energy revolution. The U.S. boom, while not the first, has been remarkable. 

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Electricity demand in the U.S. has been declining, largely due to increased energy efficiency in everything from light bulbs and TVs to heavy manufacturing. In such an environment, the most expensive fuel loses, and increasingly that’s coal. 

Source: EIA, Bloomberg New Energy Finance

With renewables entering the mix, even the fossil-fuel plants still in operation are being used less often. When the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, the marginal cost of that electricity is essentially free, and free energy wins every time. That also means declining profits for fuel-burning power plants.  

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, EIA

The bad news for coal miners gets even worse. U.S. mining equipment has gotten bigger, badder, and way more efficient. Perhaps the biggest killer of coal jobs is improved coal equipment. The state of California now employs more people in the solar industry than the entire country employs for coal. 

Source: Bloomberg New Energy Finance, U.S. Department of Labor

Historically, economic growth has…

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