That most politicians make promises they don’t keep should hardly be surprising. It is therefore interesting to think back to the US presidential campaign of 2016, particularly with the next election for America’s top role just three weeks away. At the time, Donald Trump, claimed he would “end the war on coal” and “put our miners back to work.” Four years’ on, the figures tell a quite different picture.
145 coal-burning units at 75 power plants have been idled during the first term of one of the most coal-friendly presidents in modern American history. This constitutes the fastest decline in coal-fuel capacity in any single presidential term. The shutdown of these plants is equivalent to an elimination of 15% of the nation’s coal-generated capacity, or enough to power about 30m households. Viewed from a different perspective, an estimated 20% of power generated in the US this year is expected to come from coal, down from 31% in 2017 (all the data can be found here).
Such a reduction has, of course, come at the cost of an estimated 5,500 mining jobs, while the current pandemic has almost certainly exacerbated the problem by reducing overall energy demand. The more interesting point, however, is thatregardless of who wins this November’selection, there is still a lot more to be done. America derives 80% its energy from fossil-based fuels, not just the contribution of coal, but also shale oil and gas. More mines may well shut, while a Democrat administration would almost certainly accelerate the rollout of renewable energy projects. Interestingly, most Americans (77%) believe it’s important for the country to develop alternative energy sources (per Pew Research).
One other interesting element to throw into the mix is the importance of investment into the renewable energy industry. Consider that in 2009, the US had twice as much wind capacity as China and five times as much solar capacity. A decade on, China had taken the lead and deployed twice as much wind and three times as much solar. Last year, China built 70% of the world’s solar photovoltaics (solar panels and related technologies). Similarly, it holds almost 75% of the world’s manufacturing capacity for lithium-ion battery cells (more details here). Looking forward, factors such as these may truly help to differentiate countries in terms of both reaching their environmental objectives and achieving energy independence.
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