The states most dependent on coal for electricity | Lifestyles

Photo credit: I. Noyan Yilmaz / Shutterstock

At the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, world leaders came together to negotiate new targets for cutting carbon emissions in a bid to slow the rate of global warming. During two weeks of negotiations, one of the main topics of discussion was the use of coal as a source of energy. Some coal-dependent countries, including India and China, have argued for a ‘gradual reduction’ rather than a total ‘elimination’ of coal power in the final deal, while US envoy John Kerry predicted in an interview that the United States would phase out coal by 2030.

Coal is one of the cheapest energy sources available in the United States, in part because the United States is home to a large portion of the world’s coal reserves. But coal also has other environmental and social disadvantages that have made it a less desirable fuel source. Coal mining and burning are highly emitting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane and also pose risks of air and water pollution. Many policymakers and environmental advocates are now pushing for a transition away from coal for this reason.

Until recently, however, cost won out, and cheap coal was the main source of fuel in the United States, accounting for more than half of electricity generation in the United States until 2003. Since then , dependence on coal has fallen and currently represents only 19.3% of total production in the United States. The rapid decline of coal was made possible because other, cleaner sources of energy became cheaper. Natural gas has experienced a major boom over the past two decades as techniques such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have made it easier to extract. Renewable sources like wind and solar have also become cheaper and more widely adopted in recent years thanks to government investments and technological advancements. As a result, the share of electricity generated from renewables has increased by two-thirds since 1990.

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