5 Reasons why Renewables Topped Coal 10 Years Early

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The U.S. used more renewable energy and natural gas than coal in 2015. Here are five reasons why.

According to a recent analysis by SNL Energy, the United States reached a milestone in 2015 when cheap natural gas and renewables topped coal as the leading energy source, beating the Clean Power Plan’s predictions by a decade.

The findings mean that the U.S. is likely going to have an easier time lessening its dependence on foreign oil and coal. In 2015, the U.S. was still dependent on foreign oil for 26% of its reserves according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. For some contrast, consider that Cambridge Econometrics reported that Europe was dependent on Russian oil for 30% of its reserves in the same year.

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How did the U.S. get itself moving in this direction?

Here are Five Reasons Why Renewables Beat out Coal:

1. Public Policy

The U.S. government has been serious about renewables for the last few years, and that contributed to the high levels of clean energy.

The control that the government has comes in the form of Recovery Act investments and tax credit extensions. These policies gave burgeoning new energy companies room to breathe and grow, allowing them to flourish to the point where they may not need government assistance to keep providing renewable energy.

One contributor to green energy success is the Clean Power Plan, which pushed the use of gas to exceed that of coal. According to Daniel Cohan, we reached a milestone that was set for 2025 ten years early, so it’s clear that the markets are progressing despite the need to cut emissions.

2. Investors

Before any new idea sees the light of day, it needs an investor. Without investors, many of the flashy new technologies of Industry 4.0 would never see the light of day. We need those with money to throw it around in the hopes that something will stick. With renewables, the path has been long and arduous, but new technologies are starting to meet the demands of rising clean energy needs.

We have investors to thank for every new technology that advances the field of renewable energy, but that’s not to take away from the intrepid researchers and developers who actually develop new technologies.

3. Fresh new Ideas

Right now there is a direct flow of ideas from scientists to developers, and it is part of what characterizes the modern age. New scientific understanding of physics, data science, and natural science are helping us understand better methods of interacting with nature, and that is leading developers to seek an investor to develop some flashy new project that they think will change the world.

Some inventions are too good to be true, and they fail. Yet, every failure spawns ten more attempts at the same idea. What matters, then, is where our attention lies. In this case, renewables attract scientists from around the world to study and improve our energy consumption.

Not everyone is happy about the push for renewable energy, but it has become popular enough to become mainstream. That is all the difference for a growing technological research field.

4. Public Perception

Nobody likes pollution. People may argue about how bad pollution is, or whether or not they should be allowed to pollute for profit, but in no conversation or article have I ever heard that it is a good idea to harm the environment.

Even if you don’t buy climate change claims, lessening pollution must sound more effective in the long run. If I build a machine, I want that machine to be as effective as possible, and when you are talking about power, you never want to run out. That’s what renewables are all about, and that’s one reason that it is so easy to make it look good in the public eye.

With a good public perception, you create a general attitude that gives rise to interested scientists and hungry developers. Hopefully, that means that a modern industry will have a much easier time growing to the point that they overcome an older one. It’s no surprise, then, that the government supports clean energy (at least to some extent).

5. Lower Production costs

In modern scientific research, it can be costly just to see if the science of something can be made practical. If a practical application is found, it can still take years before we learn if it can be scaled to the consumer market.

Renewable energy research, then, has found major benefit in finding cost-effective ways to make use of practical energy applications. By making higher-yield energy producing technology more cost-effective, more companies risk development.

Part of the lower cost of production came from lower natural gas prices, but another part came from alternative fuel sources. Many companies are using traditional wind and solar methods, but the advent of batteries made from scrap metal and jet fuel made from wood scraps makes it easy to speculate that there are alternative fuel sources worth exploring.

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