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In 2019, energy consumption from renewable sources like hydroelectric, wind, and solar surpassed coal energy consumption for the first time.
Coal consumption in the US peaked in 2007 at 22.75 quadrillion BTUs, enough power for 73.6 million people for a year. By 2019, coal consumption was halved to 11.32 quadrillion BTUs of energy, enough to cover total energy usage for 36.6 million people in the US for a year. During that same period, renewable energy usage increased 74% from 6.52 quadrillion BTUs to 11.35 quadrillion BTUs.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) attributes the drop in coal consumption to a shift in energy sources at electric power plants. About 92% of all coal used in the US is for electric power. (The rest is primarily for industrial purposes.) While renewable energy’s role in electric power has been increasing, so has natural gas. Between 2011 and 2019, 121 coal power plants were repurposed to use other fuels, with 103 turning into natural gas operations. The number of predominantly coal-fired power plants dropped 48% from 593 in 2009 to 308 in 2019.
When combining the three fossil fuels — coal, natural gas, and petroleum — the group accounts for 80% of all energy consumed.
All but two states — Alaska and Nebraska — have decreased coal consumption between 2007 and 2019. EIA data shows that California effectively eliminated coal consumption in 2015. The state does have one functioning coal power plant in San Bernardino County, though it accounts for less than 0.1% of the state’s electricity capacity.
The five states using the most coal for electric power in 2007 — Texas, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Pennsylvania — accounted for 34% of the decline in coal use between 2007 and 2019.
Coal’s decline as an energy source is one of a few government data points that show the decline of coal in the United States.
Coal mining jobs have decreased since April 1985, when the industry employed 178,300 people, or one in 544 nonfarm jobs. February 2021 employment was 76% lower, at 43,000. Currently, one in every 3,327 nonfarm jobs are in coal mining.
In 2019, coal mining produced 13.33 quadrillion BTUs — enough energy for a year to power 43.7 million homes and the lowest amount produced since 1978. In 2008, coal production hit its peak: 22.12 quadrillion BTUs, which could power 72.5 million homes for a year.
Learn more about the state of energy and the environment by visiting this year’s State of the Union In Numbers.
The EIA reports coal production and state-based coal consumption using units known as short tons. A short ton equals 2,000 pounds. Short tons are not the standard of measurement for other energy sources such as petroleum (measured in barrels) or natural gas (measured in cubic feet). To keep comparisons with other energy sources consistent, short tons were converted to British thermal units (BTU) using EIA's conversion calculator. A BTU is a measure of the heat content of fuels or energy sources.
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