“Coal has no future”; Clean Energy Most Certainly Does

A recent article in the Financial Times yet again drives home the fact that dirty energy, particularly coal, “has no future.”

One of the largest haulers of US coal says fossil fuels have no future, despite pledges to the contrary from President Donald Trump.

CSX, a freight railroad company with origins in the bituminous coal seams of Appalachia, will not buy a single new locomotive to pull coal trains, chief executive Hunter Harrison told analysts on Wednesday.

“Fossil fuels are dead,” Mr Harrison said. “That’s a long-term view. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not going to be in two or three years. But it’s going away, in my view.”

How quickly U.S. coal consumption has fallen can be seen in the official statistics from the U.S. Energy Information Administration: from a peak of 22.7 quadrillion Btu’s in 2007 to just 14.2 quadrillion Btu’s in 2016, a 37% decline in less than a decade. During that same period, renewable energy (including hydroelectricity) consumption jumped from 6.5 quadrillion Btu’s (in 2007) to 10.2 quadrillion Btu’s (in 2016), an increase of 55%, driven almost completely by non-hydro renewables. The employment numbers reflect this growth as well, with the U.S. Department of Energy estimating that solar and wind power combined employ over 470,000 people,  nearly triple the coal sector’s 160,000 employees.

More encouraging news is the outlook for clean energy vs. coal going forward. For instance, BP’s 2017 energy outlook anticipates that “coal consumption is expected to peak in the mid-2020s,” while “renewables are the fastest growing fuel source, quadrupling over the next 20 years.” And that’s coming from a fossil fuel company. Bloomberg New Energy Finance is even more optimistic, predicting point blank that “solar and wind dominate the future of electricity”; that by 2021, solar will be “cheaper than coal in China, India, Mexico, the U.K and Brazil,” plus “Australia, the U.S., Spain and Italy”; that onshore and offshore wind costs will plummet; and that coal will reach its “point of no return”:

Sluggish demand, cheap renewables and coal-gas fuel switching slash coal use by 87% in Europe and 45% in the U.S. by 2040, while coal generation continues to grow in China but reaches peak in 2026. .

The bottom line is that Hunter Harrison of CSX is absolutely correct that “fossil fuels are dead” in the long run, to be replaced by cleaner, cheaper forms of energy. Which is why smart investors are pouring trillions of dollars into the latter and pulling it out of the former. Perhaps it’s time for CSX to start hauling solar panels and wind turbines instead of coal?