The U.S. and European approaches to burning fossil fuels are looking increasingly polarized. As the Trump administration rallies to do whatever it can to save the coal industry and keep burning the stuff to generate electricity, across the Atlantic Ocean the dirtiest of power stations are shutting down at an unprecedented rate.
Just last week, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a review of electricity markets in the U.S. to be carried out within the next 60 days. His overarching concern: that embracing renewables and closing plants that provide baseload support, particularly those that use fossil fuels, could undermine the resilience of the electricity grid. From his memorandum:
Many have questioned the manner in which baseload power is dispatched and compensated. Still others have highlighted the diminishing diversity of our nation's electric generation mix, and what that could mean for baseload power and grid resilience. This has resulted in part from regulatory burdens introduced by previous administrations that were designed to decrease coal-fired power generation. Such policies have destroyed jobs and economic growth, and they threaten to undercut the performance of the grid well into the future.
It’s not clear that the resilience of the grid really is at risk, but the review does dovetail well with Donald Trump’s recent executive order seeking to roll back many of the climate initiatives put in place by the Obama administration. In particular, that move demanded that federal agencies rescind policies deemed to be a “burden” on energy production—really, a euphemism for scrapping any rules that get in the way of burning coal, such as the Clean Power Plan.
Meanwhile, things look rather different in Europe. Bloomberg reports that many of the largest power plant operators across the continent are shutting down or converting coal power plants faster than ever. In 2016, 10 gigawatts of coal-generated electricity capacity in Europe went offline, and the International Energy Agency expects just 114 gigawatts of capacity to be in use by 2030—down from 177 gigawatts in 2014.
New coal plants are unlikely to replace them in any great number: a recent study showed that fewer coal-powered plants are going into construction. Instead, some of the slack is being taken up by natural-gas plants, and renewables are booming. And, so far at least, the grid seems to be holding up just fine.
(Read more: Bloomberg, “Trump’s Rollback Paves the Way for a New Climate Leader,” “Solar Installations Soared in the U.S. in 2016,” “Coal Power Has Taken a Tumble, But Is It the Beginning of the End?”)