The industry of coal is facing obstacles that suggest the industry might disappear completely in a near future. Progression of the Consumption of coal since 1950. (Image credit: EIA.GOV)


There was as time when light revolved around renewable sources of energy, in an indirect way. Water or wind power for mills, for example. Nowadays, electricity is generated through exploiting non-renewable sources − natural gas, coal and nuclear energy. In fact, in the US coal is the primary fuel used to generate electricity. Of all the uses of coal, electric power accounted for 91.8 percent as of 2019. According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), between 1950 and 1960, coal was used in 4 ways: to produce electricity, for transportation, in coking plants, and in residences. Then, between 1960 and the mid-2000s, the use of coal for electricity reached its peak while other uses decreased slowly. Since the mid-2000s, however, Americans have been consuming less and less coal for electric power, pandemic aside.


Coal is being replaced by natural sources of energy. The EIA, which has been studying the country’s energy consumption starting as far back as 1635, revealed that coal consumption dropped by 15 percent in 2019, for the 6th year in a row. While natural gas seemed to be the culprit, the EIA noticed that renewable sources like the sun and wind were on the rise for the fourth consecutive year. Experts estimate that coal will continue losing ground in favor of sustainable sources due to the growing concerns for the environment. Since coal emits more carbon dioxide than any other source of energy, scientists urge countries to stop using coal entirely by 2050. In addition, the Covid-19 crisis caused a decrease in electricity demand. With the closure of many businesses and factories, utility companies had excess energy, which means increased costs. To reduce their costs, those companies had to adopt cheaper sources of energy like natural gas, sun and wind; therefore, turning their back on coal.


Another obstacle to the use of coal is its production. Coal plants are dying, making them expensive to operate. In the past 10 years, hundreds of plants closed, including thirteen this year alone. However, not everybody has given up on coal yet. While countries like the United Kingdom are heeding scientists’ warning and reducing their consumption of coal, others desperately trying to keep the industry alive. It’s clear that as long as coal is needed in steelmaking and exports of coal continue, the use of coal will not halt. Nonetheless, we cannot deny the growing demand for “cleaner” energy as more data surface to prove that we need to reduce our carbon footprint. Who knows? Renewable energies might replace coal even in steelmaking one day.


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