So how does solar stack up against coal?  If you ignore the externalities then coal power is cheap, but not for long as a couple of things happen:

  1. We’re going to start running out of the easy stuff to get
  2. We’re going to internalize some of the true costs of coal power.

I won’t go into detail about the coal supply in America but suffice to say that when someone tells you there are abundant coal reserves here, ask them how many are recoverable. The truth is that most coal production areas are depleted or on the way and America now sources 40% of its coal from one small river basin in Wyoming.

Powder River Basin (PRB) has 13 big mines but none of them will be viable in 20 years, in terms of producing coal at a cost structure that makes sense.  The main problem is the stripping ratio, or amount of ground that needs to be removed to get to the coal. The market is already reflecting some of Old King Coal’s problems as per these facts:

1. The delivered price of coal increased 3 times faster than inflation in the past 5 years

2. The cost of transporting PRB coal is 3 times greater than Its mining costs

3. Oil has twice the impact of mining on the cost of delivered PRB coal

4. States dependent on coal had the highest electricity price increases in the past 5 years

5. US coal mining productivity peaked in 2000 and declined 20% since

Remember that all of this is happening against a backdrop of solar power’s costs falling precipitously.  The only real question remaining is how long will coal be competitive?

Not for long. Indeed, you could not start on a new coal fired power plant in America today and have it up and running before it was more expensive than a solar plant.


Another reason this is a good change (aside from the climate benefits, saving the land from being blown up, and protecting our children from asthma) is that photovoltaics create more jobs than coal per kilowatt hour of power provided.


So our time in the sun is not done – we just have to bring it on. We’re very quickly realizing that coal is a pretty inefficient way to store the energy in sunlight. Digging it up and burning it to boil water is even more inefficient as a way to make electricity. Humanity will increasingly look up and access that same energy straight from the source. If you ever want to go solar in your own life please do so with Sungevity.  You can get your free Sungevity iQuote today if you are in AZ, CA, CO, DE, MA, MD, NJ, or NY.

We look forward to serving you…

Posted by Bliss Dennen

Bliss served as Sungevity's social media and brand manager at a critical moment in Sungevity's history, helping successfully grow the Rooftop Revolution to the Eastern Seaboard.