Fossil fuels have always dominated the U.S. energy generation mix; however, times are changing, and fossil fuels may not be such a huge source of energy in the future.
To make a reasonable prediction of the future of our fuel-mix, it is important to understand the history and how it has changed in the past years. Past performance of resources within the fuel-mix can be a good indication of how other resources are expected to perform and provides a realistic glimpse into the possible future of electric generation in the United States.
Historically, while the split of fuel mix used to generate electricity in the United States has mostly consisted of coal, natural gas, nuclear, non-hydro renewable, and hydropower. The percentages of each of these resources have changed throughout the years.
U.S. coal electric generation had been strong since the 1990s, however, in the span of just six years, from 2007 to 2013, coal’s share of the U.S. electricity mix declined from about half to just 39 percent while natural gas generation’s share grew from 22 percent to 27 percent.
Since 2014, the percentage of coal in the fuel mix has continued to shrink considerably. As the use of coal decreases, the natural gas percentage in the fuel mix has been increasing more rapidly.
Electric generation using natural gas eventually surpassed coal, and currently plays the largest role in the United States’ fuel mix for electricity generation. It has become extremely critical in meeting the country’s energy needs.
The shift from coal to natural gas is due to utilities increasingly choosing natural gas over coal for meeting electricity demand. This trend has been driven by lower natural gas prices and standards aimed at limiting harmful pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Closing coal-fired power plants and continuing to retire them in the future will have a significant impact on our economy, health, and climate for decades to come.
Although natural gas is also a fossil fuel, it is much cleaner than coal. Therefore, many people view it as a bridge between dirty fossil fuels and sustainability and a way to reduce emissions relative to coal, while the US works on scaling up renewables. Many experts predict that natural gas will continue to play a vital role in the economic future and remain the primary fuel source well into 2040.
There are, however, major questions associated with experts’ projections of natural gas and the role it will play in our future as our society grows more and more socially conscious. There have been many concerns regarding the environmental impact of natural gas, despite being a cleaner substitute, which has already led to a major environmental push to replace fossil fuels altogether.
As fossil-fuel generated plants continue to close, the use of renewables has been on the rise. Projections show that renewables will continue to increase at a significant pace and within the next decade, are expected to eventually take the place of coal and nuclear and will become the second leading electric generation source.
Although it is not possible for the US to make the shift to 100% renewable energy overnight, it is possible that the use of renewables could increase more quickly than expected.
A continued effort to become a more socially responsible and increased investment in clean energy by the government—in the form of subsidies, loan assistance, and research and development would help speed up the processes.
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