Since the 1880s, burning coal has generated more electricity in the U.S. than any other source. But, cleaner technologies are increasingly gaining market share.

Vine: “Ten years ago, coal was producing around 50 percent of U.S. electricity and today that’s down to around a third.”

Doug Vine

That’s Doug Vine, with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. He says natural gas is largely responsible for the shift. It now generates about as much electricity as coal.

Extracting and burning natural gas is controversial, but its combustion emits about half the carbon dioxide of coal. And Vine says it can also support more clean power, like wind.

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Vine: “Natural gas is a technology that can be brought on very quickly so it can be back-up or support for renewable electricity sources.”

Wind currently generates about five percent of all electricity in the U.S. but in some states, it’s much higher. Kansas and South Dakota each get more than 20 percent of their electricity from wind. In Iowa, it’s more than 35 percent.

So as clean technology and renewable energy become more cost-effective, coal faces an increasingly challenging future.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Image graphic: Created by David McCarthy.

Bruce Lieberman

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...