Coal's sharp decline leads to a drop in US energy production

It's the first such fall since 2009.

Wolfgang Rattay / Reuters

Whether you like it or not, coal power is on the decline... and that's having a marked impact on American energy output. The US Energy Information Administration has published data revealing that the country's 2016 energy production dropped over year-over-year -- the first such drop since 2009. Most of it can be pinned on coal, whose output fell a steep 18 percent compared to 2015. Other energy sources dipped as well, but not by nearly as much. Natural gas and crude oil were down 'just' 2 and 7 percent respectively.

The one bright spot was renewable energy. Technologies like solar and wind power put out 7 percent more energy in 2016 than they did a year earlier. The increase isn't all that shocking, of course. The cost of renewable energy is dropping quickly enough that it's becoming increasingly practical, particularly for large-scale projects that can power whole urban centers.

This doesn't mean that the US is losing its clout in energy exports. Those actually increased by 6 percent, a large chunk of which came from a 7 percent spike in crude oil shipments (coal dropped a steep 19 percent). However, the figures suggest that it may be too late to prop up the coal industry. It could be more effective to convert power plants, retrain workers and otherwise prepare for a renewable-focused future.