Three big energy changes that are a surprise to most people

Since, 2007, the price of electricity has gone down, along with the price of clothing and wireless phone service.  Unsurprisingly, health care, cable TV and many other services Americans use regularly have become more expensive over the last 10 years. But that is not true of electricity — an essential service.

The average retail price of electricity in the United States is little changed from 2007 and, adjusted for inflation, prices are actually lower today. This comes as the power sector has reduced carbon dioxide emissions during that period by 28 percent, according to the Energy Information Administration. Utilities achieved those reductions by steadily moving away from polluting fuels like coal toward cleaner sources like natural gas, wind and solar.

In Texas, wind energy production has increased by 645 percent, while coal decreased by 9 percent.  Wind turbines supplied nearly 15 percent of the state’s electricity last year, up from 2.2 percent in 2007, according to the E.I.A. Those turbines helped reduce the state’s reliance on coal, which contributed less than 30 percent of the state’s electricity in 2017, down from more than 36 percent a decade earlier. Over that time period, the state’s retail electric prices fell to 8.55 cents per kilowatt-hour, from 10.11 cents, before adjusting for broader inflation.  Parts of Texas have lots of wind, which is why developers have put up so many turbines. The state also gets lots of sun, which is why many experts think that solar panels will, over time, become another major source of energy there. Last year, solar panels contributed less than 1 percent of the electricity generated in Texas.

Of course, electricity prices vary a lot from state to state, for many reasons. For example, prices in California, which has made reducing emissions a priority, have gone up in recent years. Some experts say that is because state regulators have let utilities build more power plants than California needs. But they have fallen in New York, which has set similarly ambitious climate targets.

Nationwide, natural gas use increased 42 percent while coal use fell by 40 percent.

There are many reasons why electricity prices have been so stable. Among the most important ones is the boom in shale gas production, which led to a dramatic drop in the price of gas. As a result, many electric utilities converted to natural gas, which generates about half the emissions of coal, over the last two decades. While some environmentalists oppose hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the practice, when paired with regulations to limit its impact on ground water and air, can be an important part of a transition to cleaner fuels.

Today, something similar is happening with renewables. Wind turbines and solar panels are becoming cheaper every year, even as the federal government phases out tax credits for the use of those technologies. The cost of renewable energy from wind and solar farms is often much lower than electricity from new coal-fired power plants and in the same ballpark as efficient natural gas plants, according to an analysis by the investment bank Lazard. In addition, the cost of battery storage, which will be needed to smooth out the intermittent nature of wind and sun, is falling fast.

None of this ought to minimize the scale of the changes still needed to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures.

recent report by BP, the energy company, showed that the world has not reduced its reliance on fossil fuels over the last two decades, in part because developing countries are using more coal while industrialized nations are moving away from nuclear power.

Another recent report, by the Rhodium Group, warns that greenhouse gas emissions from American utilities could increase in 2025 as nuclear power plants, many of which are nearing retirement age, are mothballed. To avoid that, state governments may have to subsidize nuclear power plants, at least until the country builds enough renewable capacity to take up the slack. In addition, countries have, so far, made far too little progress in reducing emissions from cars, trucks and other vehicles.

The fact that the United States has been able to reduce emissions from the power sector while keeping prices low shows that the world can address climate change by ushering in an era of abundant, affordable and clean energy.