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How Far Are We From Phasing Out Coal?

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Phasing_Out_Coal

How Far Are We from Phasing Out Coal?

At the COP26 conference last year, 40 nations agreed to phase coal out of their energy mixes.

Despite this, in 2021, coal-fired electricity generation reached all-time highs globally, showing that eliminating coal from the energy mix will not be a simple task.

This infographic shows the aggressive phase-out of coal power that would be required in order to reach net zero goals by 2050, based on an analysis by Ember that uses data provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Low-Cost Comes at a High Environmental Cost

Coal-powered electricity generation rose by 9.0% in 2021 to 10,042 Terawatt-hours (TWh), marking the biggest percentage rise since 1985.

The main reason is cost. Coal is the world’s most affordable energy fuel. Unfortunately, low-cost energy comes at a high cost for the environment, with coal being the largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions.

China has the highest coal consumption, making up 54% of the world’s coal electricity generation. The country’s consumption jumped 12% between 2010 and 2020, despite coal making up a lower percentage of the country’s energy mix in relative terms.

Top Consumers2020 Consumption (Exajoules) Share of global consumption
China 🇨🇳82.354.3%
India 🇮🇳17.511.6%
United States 🇺🇸9.26.1%
Japan 🇯🇵4.63.0%
South Africa 🇿🇦3.52.3%
Russia 🇷🇺3.32.2%
Indonesia 🇮🇩3.32.2%
South Korea 🇰🇷3.02.0%
Vietnam 🇻🇳2.11.4%
Germany 🇩🇪1.81.2%

Together, China and India account for 66% of global coal consumption and emit about 35% of the world’s greenhouse gasses (GHG). If you add the United States to the mix, this goes up to 72% of coal consumption and 49% of GHGs.

How Urgent is to Phase Out Coal?

According to the United Nations, emissions from current and planned fossil energy infrastructure are already more than twice the amount that would push the planet over 1.5°C of global heating, a level that scientists say could bring more intense heat, fire, storms, flooding, and drought than the present 1.2°C.

Apart from being the largest source of CO2 emissions, coal combustion is also a major threat to public health because of the fine particulate matter released into the air.

As just one example of this impact, a recent study from Harvard University estimates air pollution from fossil fuel combustion is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths globally.

The Move to Renewables

Coal-powered electricity generation must fall by 13% every year until 2030 to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals of keeping global heating to only 1.5 degrees.

To reach the mark, countries would need to speed up the shift from their current carbon-intensive pathways to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

How fast the transition away from coal will be achieved depends on a complicated balance between carbon emissions cuts and maintaining economic growth, the latter of which is still largely dependent on coal power.

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Energy Shift

Forecasting U.S. Clean Energy Job Creation by State (2019-2050)

The U.S. will have 5 million new clean energy jobs by 2050. Here we visualize the change in new clean energy jobs by state.

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Clean Energy Jobs creation by State

The Growth of Clean Energy Jobs by State

As the world is slowly moving towards a carbon-free future, job prospects within the renewable energy industry will see a boom in the coming years. Ranging from environmental scientists to renewable energy generation technicians and engineers, clean energy jobs are growing.

Between the shuttering of coal plants and companies making efforts to use renewable sources of energy, the United States on its own could see the creation of 5 million net new jobs within the energy-supply sector, driven by clean energy.

These jobs offer a more sustainable and high-paying alternative for the current and new workforce, especially in some of the country’s highly fossil-fuel-dependent states.

Based on analysis presented by Princeton University, the above infographic visualizes the forecasted change in energy-supply jobs in every state from 2019 to 2030 and up until 2050, in a net-zero scenario.

Shift in Energy Supply Jobs by 2030: Texas on the Forefront

Between 2020 and 2021, jobs in the oil and gas sector saw a 9% decline in Texas, a reduction of more than 55,000 in the state. Despite this, Texas is still one of the largest oil and natural gas producers, employing the highest number of people.

A rapid rise in employment in the clean energy industry will compensate for this decline in fossil fuel sector jobs. Texas fossil fuel unions have also signed onto the climate action plan and vowed to create more jobs in the clean energy sector.

In the process, Texas will see nearly 135,000 net new energy-supply jobs by 2030, more than any other state.

Here’s a look at the number of forecasted net new energy-supply jobs in the rest of the country:

StateForecasted Net Change in Energy-supply Jobs (2019-2030)
Texas134,446
California73,259
Florida65,754
South Carolina55,058
Iowa46,295
Virginia43,250
New Mexico39,548
Indiana38,908
Missouri33,786
Oklahoma30,953
Nebraska30,866
Illinois30,003
New York26,063
North Carolina25,789
Kansas22,064
Colorado18,634
Washington17,272
Alabama12,977
New Jersey12,845
Minnesota12,726
Michigan12,546
Georgia12,375
Oregon11,794
Pennsylvania11,581
Massachusetts11,332
North Dakota10,319
Mississippi9,564
Louisiana7,460
Utah7,388
Idaho6,758
Maryland6,461
Connecticut6,429
Nevada6,358
Montana6,014
Ohio5,873
Kentucky5,106
Maine4,483
Arizona3,962
South Dakota3,904
Tennessee3,752
Wyoming2,458
New Hampshire2,167
Arkansas1,991
Vermont1,591
Delaware1,538
Rhode Island1,399
Wisconsin863
West Virginia-1521
Total U.S.852,651

Note: Negative values indicate a decline in energy-supply jobs by 2030.

Shift in Energy Supply Jobs by 2050: Wisconsin Advances

Wisconsin has stated its desire to transition to 100% clean energy by 2050, growing the state’s economy by more than $21 billion.

According to Princeton, Wisconsin could also introduce more than 46,000 net new energy-supply jobs by 2050, a tremendous leap over the state’s 863 new jobs forecasted through 2030.

StateForecasted Net Change in Energy-supply Jobs (2019-2050)
Texas728,899
California356,350
Iowa266,464
Florida262,254
Nebraska216,561
Oklahoma213,432
Virginia209,840
Colorado183,014
Indiana170,705
Illinois165,348
Minnesota154,014
Oregon139,981
Kansas135,561
Georgia130,015
Pennsylvania127,286
Missouri126,825
Alabama125,812
New York121,786
Washington107,267
Maine102,026
Mississippi92,425
North Dakota86,490
Michigan80,755
New Mexico76,566
Tennessee74,275
North Carolina74,150
South Carolina62,779
Wyoming61,225
Montana60,127
Ohio53,848
Wisconsin46,445
New Hampshire44,025
South Dakota43,916
Arkansas42,038
Maryland39,527
West Virginia32,439
Nevada30,990
Kentucky29,243
Idaho28,371
Utah28,059
Vermont26,293
Arizona14,399
Delaware11,954
New Jersey11,091
Louisiana9,969
Connecticut5,644
Rhode Island1,478
Massachusetts-6,703
Total U.S.5,160,124

Note: Negative values indicate a decline in energy-supply jobs by 2050.

The state of Wyoming has the second-highest change in energy supply jobs, going from 2,400 jobs by 2030 to nearly 62,000 by 2050. Meanwhile, California, Florida, and Texas will continue their commitment to being leaders and introducing more clean energy-supply jobs by 2050.

The only states that will see a decline in clean energy jobs between their 2030 and 2050 totals are the northeastern states of Connecticut, New Jersey, and Massachusetts.

Most states have taken measures to create more sustainable and high-paying jobs without leaving the current workforce in the lurch. On average, U.S. states will see an increase of 105,000 energy-supply jobs by 2050.

As the states and the country make this transition and federal and private investment in the renewable energy industry increases, it’ll be interesting to keep track of how new clean energy jobs impact the economy.

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Energy Shift

What Are the Five Major Types of Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is the foundation of the ongoing energy transition. What are the key types of renewable energy, and how do they work?

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the five types of renewable energy and how they work
the five types of renewable energy and how they work

The Renewable Energy Age

Awareness around climate change is shaping the future of the global economy in several ways.

Governments are planning how to reduce emissions, investors are scrutinizing companies’ environmental performance, and consumers are becoming conscious of their carbon footprints. But no matter the stakeholder, energy generation and consumption from fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to emissions.

Therefore, renewable energy sources have never been more top-of-mind than they are today.

The Five Types of Renewable Energy

Renewable energy technologies harness the power of the sun, wind, and heat from the Earth’s core, and then transforms it into usable forms of energy like heat, electricity, and fuel.

The above infographic uses data from Lazard, Ember, and other sources to outline everything you need to know about the five key types of renewable energy:

Energy Source% of 2021 Global Electricity GenerationAvg. levelized cost of energy per MWh
Hydro 💧 15.3%$64
Wind 🌬 6.6%$38
Solar ☀️ 3.7%$36
Biomass 🌱 2.3%$114
Geothermal ♨️ <1%$75

Editor’s note: We have excluded nuclear from the mix here, because although it is often defined as a sustainable energy source, it is not technically renewable (i.e. there are finite amounts of uranium).

Though often out of the limelight, hydro is the largest renewable electricity source, followed by wind and then solar.

Together, the five main sources combined for roughly 28% of global electricity generation in 2021, with wind and solar collectively breaking the 10% share barrier for the first time.

The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) measures the lifetime costs of a new utility-scale plant divided by total electricity generation. The LCOE of solar and wind is almost one-fifth that of coal ($167/MWh), meaning that new solar and wind plants are now much cheaper to build and operate than new coal plants over a longer time horizon.

With this in mind, here’s a closer look at the five types of renewable energy and how they work.

1. Wind

Wind turbines use large rotor blades, mounted at tall heights on both land and sea, to capture the kinetic energy created by wind.

When wind flows across the blade, the air pressure on one side of the blade decreases, pulling it down with a force described as the lift. The difference in air pressure across the two sides causes the blades to rotate, spinning the rotor.

The rotor is connected to a turbine generator, which spins to convert the wind’s kinetic energy into electricity.

2. Solar (Photovoltaic)

Solar technologies capture light or electromagnetic radiation from the sun and convert it into electricity.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells contain a semiconductor wafer, positive on one side and negative on the other, forming an electric field. When light hits the cell, the semiconductor absorbs the sunlight and transfers the energy in the form of electrons. These electrons are captured by the electric field in the form of an electric current.

A solar system’s ability to generate electricity depends on the semiconductor material, along with environmental conditions like heat, dirt, and shade.

3. Geothermal

Geothermal energy originates straight from the Earth’s core—heat from the core boils underground reservoirs of water, known as geothermal resources.

Geothermal plants typically use wells to pump hot water from geothermal resources and convert it into steam for a turbine generator. The extracted water and steam can then be reinjected, making it a renewable energy source.

4. Hydropower

Similar to wind turbines, hydropower plants channel the kinetic energy from flowing water into electricity by using a turbine generator.

Hydro plants are typically situated near bodies of water and use diversion structures like dams to change the flow of water. Power generation depends on the volume and change in elevation or head of the flowing water.

Greater water volumes and higher heads produce more energy and electricity, and vice versa.

5. Biomass

Humans have likely used energy from biomass or bioenergy for heat ever since our ancestors learned how to build fires.

Biomass—organic material like wood, dry leaves, and agricultural waste—is typically burned but considered renewable because it can be regrown or replenished. Burning biomass in a boiler produces high-pressure steam, which rotates a turbine generator to produce electricity.

Biomass is also converted into liquid or gaseous fuels for transportation. However, emissions from biomass vary with the material combusted and are often higher than other clean sources.

When Will Renewable Energy Take Over?

Despite the recent growth of renewables, fossil fuels still dominate the global energy mix.

Most countries are in the early stages of the energy transition, and only a handful get significant portions of their electricity from clean sources. However, the ongoing decade might see even more growth than recent record-breaking years.

The IEA forecasts that, by 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is set to grow by 60% from 2020 levels to over 4,800 gigawatts—equal to the current power output of fossil fuels and nuclear combined. So, regardless of when renewables will take over, it’s clear that the global energy economy will continue changing.

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