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Coal is losing the price war to wind and solar faster than anticipated

The costs of most existing coal-fired power plants in the US are now more expensive than the total costs of wind and solar as a result of their plunging costs, according to a new study.

Coal versus wind and solar

US think tank Energy Innovation reports:

Today, local wind and solar could replace 80% of the US coal fleet at immediate savings to customers. This research provides an update to the 2019 Coal Cost Crossover report, and finds the initial projection that three-fourths of all coal plants would be uneconomic by 2025 was nearly met in 2020.

In 2019, 239 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity were online in the US. In 2020, 166 GW (72% of 2019’s capacity) were either uneconomic compared to local wind or solar or due to retire within five years. Out of the total 235 US coal plants, 182 plants (80%) are uneconomic or already retiring.

Energy Innovation’s report concludes:

Coal is a highly polluting and expensive way to generate electricity. This analysis shows that we have economic alternatives to continuing to burn coal for power in the US. Furthermore, analyses such as “The 2035 Report” show that we can fully retire coal, stop building other fossil fuel plants (namely gas), and still reliably meet electricity demand, while providing a host of environmental and societal benefits. There are existing policies that can help policymakers closely examine the cost burden of generation resources used today, procure cheaper and cleaner generation resources going forward, and address current assets on the books. The continuation and intensification of the coal cost crossover demands attention from policymakers and consumers alike.

You can read the report in full here.

Electrek’s Take

No wonder Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Cecil Roberts, president of US coal’s largest union, the United Mine Workers of America, finally (begrudgingly, on Manchin’s part) acknowledged the need for a transition from coal to renewables in Appalachia on April 19. Coal can no longer be justified in the US, not only for environmental and societal reasons but now also for economic reasons.

As demonstrated in many social media comments on my stories about green energy, particularly when it comes to Texas, the general public is still buying the fossil fuel industry’s lies, as well as the lies of their political supporters. But once the higher costs for fossil fuels hit consumers’ pockets, the lying won’t be able to continue.

Coal may be worryingly rebounding in Asia, according to a recent report from the International Energy Agency. Energy and environmental groups expected that fossil-fuel use would get worse before it got better.

There are issues that need to be urgently addressed in renewable growth, such as the demand for, possible shortage of, and ethical procurement of minerals and the urgent need for a big boost in renewable manufacturing in the US. But bottom line, coal is now the worst possible choice for energy on all fronts.

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.