Gas Crushes Coal

Wind's Contribution a Distant Second


February 28, 2013 | Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus

Coal electricity declined by 12.5 percent in 2012, mostly driven by the switch to natural gas, which increased by almost the exact same amount (217 terrawatt-hours) as coal declined (216 TWh), according to new annual numbers released by the US Energy Information Administration.

Wind electricity increased as well — by about one-tenth (20.5 TWh) as much as gas. Solar increased a little more than one-hundredth as much as gas (2.5 TWh).

The figures come at a time when renewable energy advocates have claimed that wind and solar have been responsible for the big declines in coal — claims that do not stand up to scrutiny, according to a new Breakthrough Institute analysis.

Indeed, the new numbers highlight the key difference between gas and solar and wind. Where taxpayers subsidized unconventional gas exploration from 1980 to 2002 to the tune of $10 billion, natural gas in recent years has been replacing coal without subsidies.

Wind and solar, by contrast, remain almost wholly dependent on public support. Uncertainty last year over whether Congress would renew the key wind subsidy meant that less than half as much new wind will be installed in 2013 as was installed in 2012.

Where the problem for wind has been its high cost, the problem for gas is that it has become too cheap. Natural gas production slowed last year in the face of unprofitably low prices caused by overproduction.

This does not mean that subsidies for solar and wind should be cut, only that they should be reformed. Instead of subsidizing the production of electricity from the same old technologies, we need the kind of innovation that allowed natural gas to become cheaper than coal.

— Michael, Ted, Max and Alex


  • Pundits who are now dancing on the grave of coal need to look at the steep depletion of fracked gas wells and the growing public awareness of the danger they pose to the water supply.  What else can replace coal?  Nuclear is paralyzed by radiation fears and a history of cost overruns.  Hydro is maxed out.  Boutique solutions like wind, solar, and biofuels are not scalable to utility scale baseload generation.  So does anyone have a plan for reviving coal and mitigating its pollution?

    By Wilmot McCutchen on 2013 02 28

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Wilmot has hit the nail on the head - exactly right.

    By Max on 2013 03 01

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Very important points raised here.

    What is the source / data for the image?


    By Jesse Parent on 2013 03 02

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Please Google the following: coal direct chemical looping.

    I can’t explain it so you’ll have to read about it yourself.

    By Mike Foster on 2013 03 04

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

    • <a >800 Support Desk</a> – A complete customer care directory where you can find all the contact information of any service provider. Simply search by company name & find all the phone number & other support detail. Check now

      By Nancy Willson on 2018 07 06

      Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • @ Jesse Parent

    If you actually read the article and follow the hyperlink instead of just looking at the pictures. You’ll answer your own question. :p

    By Justin Templer on 2013 03 07

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Although your site treats opponents with respect, I have to challenge you.  Monthly data, not annual data, tells a radically different story.  Since May of 2012, when coal use fell to a historic low of 32.2% of supply, and Natural Gas rose to its historic peak of slightly less, we have seen coal increase 8% and natural gas decrease slightly more.  This is consistent with price, since natural gas has doubled in price since April of 2012. 

    People in the industries, including officials of the coal and natural gas industries believe that the cost of fracking requires a price above $5/mmbtu wholesale.  Some folks think the real cost is over twice that.  Around $5, natural gas is a pariah.  You will do anything you can to reduce your dependence on it.  Around $7, the U.S. economy will start back into the second dip of the Great Recession.

    Personally, I think your happy-go-lucky take on climate is stupid.  You don’t know enough about energy solutions to speak about it the way you do.  You caught a wave, but you can’t stay on top of it if you don’t know your stuff.  I do know my stuff.  .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

    By Ned Ford on 2013 05 17

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • May I know the source of this story as i think there need to be many correction in it.

    By Tushar Goyal on 2015 10 31

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • The figures come when sustainable power source advocates have asserted that wind and sunlight based have been in charge of the huge decreases in coal but I’d like services which help me write a thesis make a deeper exploration.

    By Roy on 2017 04 18

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Oh, what a difference four years makes.  It is now easy to see that natural gas generation has increased, but too little to explain the larger decline in coal.  The difference of course is wind and solar, but also required to explain the whole picture is a substantial role for efficiency.  Efficiency has more than offset all new growth and/or rebound from the recession. 

    The Federal tax credits for renewables are set to expire in about four years, sooner than the current Congress could get around to reforming them.  I’d agree that the subsidies could have been reformed to advantage but I’m sure we would disagree on how.  The difference I see is that wind hasn’t needed a subsidy in the central plains states since about 2010, while the rapid growth of the industry justifies the subsidy in states with less excellent wind.  Utility scale solar hasn’t needed a subsidy - on economic grounds - for the last couple of years, but it still faces hurdles from lawmakers and regulators who simply don’t understand how power generation is managed.

    Rooftop solar competes at the retail price while utility scale solar competes at wholesale, so rooftop - more expensive - is now crossing paths with retail rates in most states.  Where would we be without the subsidies?  Maybe twenty or thirty years behind other nations?

    Sustainable power advocate include people like myself who know the industry, and armchair environmentalists who don’t know much more than many fossil and nuclear advocates.  Those of us who know the facts don’t claim that renewables have “been in charge” of the demise of coal.  But renewables are now cheaper than coal, new natural gas (if you have to pay for the power plant instead of burning gas in a fully amortized older plant) and of course the crumbling nuclear industry. 

    It’s probably premature to tally up the relative subsidies (natural gas is still subsidized by tax credits and destroyed water tables and much more) but can anyone doubt that the future belongs to renewable energy?

    By Ned Ford on 2017 04 18

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Wow. cool post. I’d like to write like this too – taking time and real hard work to make a great article… but I put things off too much and never seem to get started. Thanks though.I’m common rail come from sensor

    By lami88 on 2017 05 16

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • By jack on 2017 06 08

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • L’année dernière, nous avons parlé de cette tendance dans les robes de mariée qui a causé un grand fureur et ce 2017 est à nouveau en vedette dans les podiums: robes de mariée avec robe mariage enfant. Maintenant, nous pouvons voir des propositions de costumes avec des blouses, des t-shirts, etc, qui apportent une touche très fraîche à la mariée.

    By Anna-bijoux on 2017 06 14

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • This is a clear indication that we have to look at more resources for energy generation in the coming years. Wind energy is certainly one of those reliable resources just as good as the solar energy. Thanks for the detailed statistics regarding the subject. kitchen remodeling companies

    By lionel john on 2017 08 08

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Welcome guys this one is an awesome link for free online fun so join this one and make your time good.

    By spider solitaire on 2017 09 11

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Welcome spider solitaire is a fastest online game i love the game and play everyday you can join it from this link and play
    spider solitaire games

    By spider solitaire games on 2017 09 12

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Great post thanks for sharing black friday vpn

    By juli on 2017 10 19

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Very useful info, thanks the impossible game

    By Rachel Roberson on 2017 10 22

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Great Information sharing. I am uncommonly lively to examine this article .. thankful for giving us encounter data. Fantastic average. I respect this post.
    Hifi Call Girls in Chandigarh

    By Anisha Saifi on 2017 10 24

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • Thanks for sharing.I found a lot of interesting information here. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more posts like this one free gift code generator

    By Maitri Shah on 2017 11 07

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

  • It is astoundingly exquisitely created an article. I genuinely like this post so keep offering it to me. I am to a great degree thankful to you amazon

    By suman on 2017 11 07

    Reply to this comment / Quote and reply

Submit a comment