If energy markets are a zero-sum game, then renewables’ gains are a loss to any of the other forms of energy that they displace. In this case, the losers are fossil fuels.


One of those fossil fuels, and the one that most proponents of a cleaner energy future would be happy to see disappear, is coal.


On one hand, coal will be with us for years to come. Its share of total energy production dwarfs that of any of its rivals. However, there are plenty of signs that the growing popularity of renewables is making a dent.


According to the Boulder, Colo.-based market research firm, Navigant, a number of factors are driving more companies to shut down their coal plants. That trend is creating a market of its own.


In a September report, “Coal Plant Decommissioning,” Navigant explains that a combination of factors will drive companies to shut down a record number of coal-fired plants over the next six years. These factors include tightening environmental regulations, competition from natural gas and public pressure for cleaner sources of power.


This will also present a series of challenges and difficult decisions for plant owners, including whether to convert plants to natural gas combustion, how best to decommission the plants, how to replace generating capacity and what will ultimately become of the facilities and the land they sit on.


These questions will create opportunities for experts and specialists who can assist the companies that are wrestling with them. Consultants, engineers, procurement specialists, construction companies, demolition companies and environmental remediation firms are some of the many specialists who will benefit from this unique market.


Navigant forecasts the market for coal plant decommissioning in North America and Europe to grow from $455 million in 2013 to $1.3 billion by 2016. Although revenue is expected to decline rapidly after that, the company projects cumulative revenue to total $5.3 billion through the year 2020.