The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) has predicted that the country’s coal-fired generating capacity will drop by 52% to 97GW by 2050.

To reach this figure, the body assumed that the cost of investing in zero-carbon technology would be higher than they are currently. In a scenario where these costs remain at their current level, the EIA expects coal capacity will drop by 64% by 2050 to 73GW.

If prices are lower than predicted, the EIA foresees as 88% drop by 2050 to 23GW. The projections come as part of the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2023.

According to the EIA all three scenarios “reflect laws and regulations adopted through mid-November, including the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, which provides tax credits for zero-emission technologies that further reduce the cost of resources such as solar and wind”.

The Biden Administration has unveiled a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions from the US power industry, notably from coal-fired power plants. Power companies will be pushed to install carbon capture equipment to capture carbon dioxide emissions before they enter the atmosphere. The EIA’s projections do not account for these measures.

In 2021 around 546 million short tonnes of coal were consumed in the US, making up around 10.8% of the country’s energy consumption. The US is the world’s third largest coal consumer despite a recent decline in consumption.

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Alternative power sources

Within the EIA’s projections, natural gas remains a key power source for the US in 2050. This is most notable in a scenario in which the costs of zero-carbon technologies are high, where the EIA expects natural gas to account for 31% of power generation.

The US remains committed to natural gas production as a source of power despite criticism from environmentalists.

Renewable energies will make up, at most, 69% of electricity generation by 2050 in a scenario where zero-carbon technologies are lower cost.

The administration claims that in all three scenarios “the coal-fired generation comes from the newer, more efficient coal-fired power plants that will remain online because they can provide lower-cost, dispatchable power to the grid”.