Distributed Energy Resources

U.S. renewable energy consumption surpasses coal for the first time since before 1885

In 2019, the annual energy consumption from renewable sources in the U.S. exceeded coal consumption for the first time in over 130 years.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), this outcome mainly reflects the continuous decline in the amount of coal used for electricity generation over the past decade and the growth in renewable energy, primarily from wind and solar. Compared with 2018, coal consumption in the U.S. decreased nearly 15%, and total renewable energy consumption increased by 1%.

In 2019, U.S. coal consumption decreased for the sixth consecutive year to 11.3 quadrillion Btu – its lowest level since 1964. Electricity generation from coal has declined significantly over the past decade and in 2019 fell to its lowest level in over 40 years. Natural gas consumption in the electric power sector has significantly increased in recent years and has replaced much of the electricity generation from retired coal plants.

Total renewable energy consumption in the United States increased for the fourth consecutive year to an all-time high of 11.5 quadrillion Btu in 2019. Since 2015, the growth in U.S. renewable energy is almost completely from the use of wind and solar in the electric power sector.

Electricity generation from wind surpassed hydro for the first time in 2019, and is now the most-used source of renewable energy for electricity generation in the United States on an annual basis.

Coal was once frequently used in the industrial, transportation, residential, and commercial sectors, but is now most commonly used in the U.S. to generate electricity. Approximately 90% of U.S. coal consumption is in the electric power sector, and the remaining percentage is nearly all in the industrial sector.

Renewable energy is more broadly consumed by every sector in the United States. About 56% of commercially delivered U.S. renewable energy is used in the electric power sector, mostly from wind and hydroelectric power, but different types are also consumed in the industrial (22%), transportation (12%), residential (7%), and commercial (2%) sectors.