Renewables Outpace Coal in U.S. Energy Consumption for First Time Since 1885

WASHINGTON – After a 134-year reign as the leading energy source in the U.S., King Coal has been toppled from the throne, replaced by wind, solar and other renewables.

In 2019, the nation consumed more energy from renewable sources than coal for the first time since 1885, according to new data from the federal Energy Information Agency, or EIA. The agency said the shift “mainly reflects the continued decline in the amount of coal used for electricity generation over the past decade as well as growth in renewable energy, mostly from wind and solar.”

For the fourth consecutive year, renewable consumption set a record, with 11.5 quadrillion British thermal units, or Btu, in 2019. Coal consumption dropped for the sixth year in a row, to 11.3 quadrillion Btu.

Another milestone was reached with wind-generated electricity becoming the most-used source of renewable energy, surpassing hydropower for the first time.

“It’s basic economics,” said EWG President Ken Cook. “Renewable energy is cheaper, cleaner and abundant. There is simply no way for coal to compete. And there is no Wall Street analyst who would risk their clients’ portfolio by investing in an industry in freefall.” 

EIA said the last year the country generated more electricity from renewables than coal was before 1885, when wood burning was the prevailing source of renewable energy.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Agency.

The coronavirus pandemic has rocked the entire energy sector, including the wind and solar industries, where tens of thousands of jobs have been temporarily lost. But the continued death spiral of coal-generated electricity and the rise in renewable sources over the past decade shows the energy future, Cook said.

The number of coal-fired power plants that have closed has risen steadily in recent years. Since Donald Trump became president, at least 50 coal plants have closed, according to the Sierra Club. During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly told coal miners he would “stop the war on coal” and restore it as the country’s dominant energy source.

“The communities in coal country are worse off today than they were four years ago, when Trump promised he’d bring back coal, and if they continue clinging to that empty promise, things will only get worse,” said Cook. “Hardworking miners and their families should demand the president and Congress pass stimulus legislation to create good-paying jobs in renewables to replace coal jobs that are gone for good.”


The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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