The US has always been a major country in carbon emission, and Trump had even emphasized on the revival of the coal industry, though both the coal industry and coal-fired power generation are expeditiously exiting from the stage despite the significant support from the former US president under the inevitable trend of technical advancement and market economy. Apart from coal-fired power generation, gas-fired power generation is also gradually becoming the latest victim, as the US is increasingly dependent on renewable energy for new power generating capacity, where 2021 will see 70% of power generating capacity coming from wind and solar energy, where the gas-fired method will merely occupy 16%.
US had been trailing in the initial development of wind and solar energy compared to European countries, where the ratio of power generation from renewable energy was relatively low, though the country has now accelerated on the progress. According to the statistics of the Energy Information Administration (EIA), solar energy occupied the highest ratio of 39% in the new power generating capacity for 2021, followed by wind energy at 31%, where the two are combined to 70%. Battery storage is also experiencing a sizeable growth by occupying 11% of new power generating capacity of 2021. When paired with renewable energy, battery storage is able to drastically elevate the utilization efficiency of the former, though the particular method may store the power generated by fossil fuels, thus it cannot be regarded as a power source of zero carbon.
Gas-fired power generation merely occupied 16%. The Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in Georgia that has been repeatedly increased in budget and postponed is expected for commission in 2021, and nuclear energy will account for 3% in the new power generating capacity for the US in 2021, should the latest schedule come true. The coal-fired power generation has gone completely silent in the new power generating capacity of the country.
The US had exited from the Paris Agreement during the tenure of Trump, who commented that carbon reduction will only result in severe burden for the finance and economy. However, the cost of fossil fuels are eventually unable to follow on the continuous price drops in solar and wind energy after mass production owing to the rapid decrement in cost, and the US power market that had been primarily relied on fossil fuel power generation has started to generate acute changes. As solar and wind energy become more affordable compared to traditional energy, new power plants are now taking a swift turn.
The carbon reduction trend amongst US private enterprises has also become a contributing force. Numerous major businesses in the country have now regulated on only purchasing energy of no carbon or low carbon, which generated a substantial increase in the demand for renewable energy, whereas traditional coal-fired and gas-fired power plants are marching towards a predicament due to the deprivation of clients. Former US president Obama initially believed that natural gas is a transition tool for carbon reduction, though the development of the market has prompted natural gas for an imminent exit before receiving the advantages of the transitional era.
The return to the Paris Agreement and an active implementation of a zero carbon economy are expected by the market after Biden’s inauguration, who declared that a zero carbon power system will be established by 2035, which indicates the necessity in adding more zero carbon power supply sources, and both coal-fired and gas-fired power generation will be rapidly eliminated. For green energy, the better news is that the ancient competitor nuclear energy is currently spitting out a large chunk of areas.
A large number of old nuclear power plants are scheduled for decommission in 2021, including the Indian Point Energy Center in New York, and Exelon is also planning to retire its Byron Generating Station and Dresden Generating Station. The three reactors add up to 5.1GW in the total power generating capacity, which occupies approximately 5% of the nuclear power generating capacity in the US, and 56% of the decommissioned power generating capacity in 2021 for the country, signaling a faster retreat in nuclear power plants compared to coal-fired power generation. Coal-fired power generation, regarded as a sunset industry, accounts for 30% of the decommissioned power generating capacity in 2021 for the US, which is only a little more than half of nuclear energy.
Regardless of nuclear energy or coal-fired power generation, the vacant power supply derived from decommission is expected to be replaced by wind and solar energy that are fast in construction and more in line with economic benefits.
(Cover photo source: shutterstock)