The New York Times declared this week that a “profound shift” is taking place in America, which is “rapidly shifting away from fossil fuels.”
This, the newspaper says, is also happening in Europe and elsewhere.
From such statements, a reader might think that the share of electricity from fossil fuels has at least halved in the past few decades.
While the article shows a lot of graphs about the growth of renewables, it omits any mention of how much electrical generation comes from fossil fuels.
According to data from the Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy, the amount of electricity generation from fossil fuels fell from nearly 73% in 1985 to just under 60% in 2022.
This means the transition away from fossil fuels is happening at a rate of 0.35% per year.
While The New York Times likes to claim the country is “rapidly shifting” away from fossil fuels, it will take, at the current pace, more than 170 years to reach 0%.
Coal Is Still King
Globally, the shift is even slower.
According to the World Energy Data, the amount of world generated from fossil fuels was just under 65% in 1985. That fell to just under 61% in 2022.
The amount generated from coal was nearly 38% in 1985. It’s just over 35% today. Natural gas rose from just under 15% in 1985 to nearly 23% today.
In that time, wind and solar rose from about 0% in 1985 to 12% in 2022, and most of that increase happened since 2005. This increase has had little impact on the amount of electricity generated from fossil fuels, according to the data, raising doubts the wind and solar are replacements for fossil fuels.
American Coal Council CEO Emily Arthun, who lives in Gillette, told Cowboy State Daily that nations around the world are embracing coal, including South Africa, India and China.
“They’re building coal-fired power plants, and they’re using coal to stand up for their economies and the wellbeing of their people,” Arthun said.
According to the Global Energy Monitor, since 2000, a total of 460,643 megawatts of coal-fired electrical generation has been retired.
In that time, 911,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity was announced, permitted or under construction. That doesn't include the 2,095,041 megawatts of coal-fired electrical generation operating in the world today.
Almost all the coal plants being permitted or constructed are in Asia, especially China. There are no plants permitted, planned or being constructed in the U.S.
Arthun said it’s concerning that nations that are unfriendly toward the U.S. are ramping up their energy production, while the U.S. is shutting down its coal capacity.
At the same time, the U.S. is becoming more dependent on China for critical minerals used in electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines.
“To be preemptively closing our coal plants is very short sighted. It's concerning that we may not have enough energy in the coming years,” Arthun said.
The International Energy Agency released its annual coal market update last month, and it also called into question the alleged rapid transition away from fossil fuels.
The report stated that coal demand for electrical generation and steel production reached record highs in 2022.
Coal mining is also up, with 398 coal mines under consideration worldwide, representing an estimated 1.8 billion tons of coal and 1.8 billion tons of mine capacity. China and India account for two-thirds of that.
State Rep. John Bear, R-Gillette, told Cowboy State Daily the data doesn’t surprise him.
He said an increase in energy demand in the U.S. is being driven by an increase in domestic manufacturing, as well as growing electrification of transportation with electric vehicle adoption.
“You can add some wind and solar, but it just doesn't get you there unless you cover practically the surface area of the continent,” Bear said.
Increases in manufacturing will also increase the demand for primary energy. Electricity is only about 20% of the total energy consumed globally. The rest is transportation and industry.
Even when considering all energy usage, the alleged “rapid transition” doesn’t show in the data.
According to the Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy, primary energy consumption in the U.S. from fossil fuels peaked out at a little more than 23,500 terawatt hours of energy. Last year, it was just under 21,600 terawatt hours.
Bear agrees that China ramping up its energy production from fossil fuels, while the U.S. is trying to shut down as much as possible, is concerning.
”Can you blame them? We're tying our own hands behind our backs, creating an economic opportunity for them. They're just taking advantage of it and laughing all the way all the way to the bank,” Bear said.