Renewables shatter records as coal production drops to 1978 levels

California hits stunning 56.7 percent peak power from renewables, and it’s only spring.

Workers install solar panels in Glendale, California. CREDIT: AP/Reed Saxon
Workers install solar panels in Glendale, California. CREDIT: AP/Reed Saxon

Renewable power keeps shattering records in the United States and around the world. Meanwhile, U.S. coal production has fallen to its lowest level since 1978, according to statistics from the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Yet President Donald Trump and his administration nonetheless continue to champion the dirty and dying fuels of the 19th century. Just last week Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a new push to expand coal mining on public lands, while misguidedly attacking renewables: “We can’t power the country on pixie dust and hope.”

Ironically, a few days earlier, the California grid’s Independent System Operator (ISO) tweeted that it achieved a record high percentage of peak demand provided by renewables of 56.7 percent.

And some 60 percent of that came from solar power, which is doubly remarkable because it’s only spring, and solar generation will be higher in the summer.

Six days later, the ISO tweeted that California set a new record for total solar generation of 9676 Megawatts.

Globally, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) just reported that 2016 set another record for global renewable additions with 161 Gigawatts. And of that, solar set a new record with 71 GW added, surpassing the 51 GW of new wind.


“We are witnessing an energy transformation taking hold around the world,” explained IRENA chief Adnan Amin. “This is reflected in another year of record-breaking additions in new renewable energy capacity.”

Last year, renewables powered Germany for a full day and powered Portugal for four consecutive days. Denmark now produces enough electricity from wind to meet all its domestic demand and still export power. In 2016, the U.K. for the first time ever generated more power from wind than coal over the entire year.

As the California ISO data shows, the same energy transformation has started to take hold here. At the same time, the EIA has reported that renewable energy grew 7 percent last year 2016, while total domestic Energy production dropped 4 percent, led by coal “which decreased 18 percent and fell to its lowest level since 1978.”

The Trump administration may slow the domestic revolution with their catastrophic pro-pollution, anti-clean energy policies. But our major trading competitors understand the future belongs to renewable pixie dust, not dirty coal dust.