In 2020, renewable energy overtook coal as a share of total energy production in the US. This is a welcome decline: coal is likely the worst offender in terms of global carbon emissions. The collapse of coal is largely due to the growth of natural gas – the main by-product of a technological revolution in crude oil extraction, specifically shale oil in large parts of the Midwest and Texas. However, this offers a false sense of hope. Burning natural gas still produces carbon emissions – about half as much as coal.
Renewables (~13%) are a growing share of US energy production but still have a long way to go to be the main form of energy – and may never get there. Nuclear energy, which produces no carbon emissions, remains out of favour. Until there is a change in sentiment towards the potential dangers and costs, it is unlikely nuclear power will grow in the US.
The reality is that, yes, there are energy alternatives to coal, and the world is rightly pivoting to cleaner, renewable energy sources. But make no mistake, the US economy will continue to require fossil fuels for many years to come.