Most people don’t think too hard about where the electricity in their home is generated from. You flip a switch or plug in an appliance, and the lights and heat work – simple, right? However, different areas of the country have different sources for the majority of their energy, and this can affect your own energy costs. Let’s look at the seven main sources of power across the US.
Coal is still the leading fuel for generating electricity in the US. 511 coal powered electric plants supply 34% of the nation’s electricity. Coal is the chief source of power in 22 states and the majority provider in 14 more, with concentration across the East Coast, Appalachia, and the Midwest, as well as in Wyoming, Utah, Montana and Arizona.1
Natural gas has almost caught up with coal, with 1,740 natural gas-powered electric plants in the U.S supplying 30% of the nation’s electricity. Natural gas is the chief source of power in 15 states, with concentration around the Gulf of Mexico and California as well as Nevada, Georgia, Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts.3
Nuclear power is more common in the US than most people realize, with 99 reactors at 63 nuclear electric plants supplying 20% of the nation’s electricity. Nuclear gained momentum in the ‘70s and ‘80s due to a drop in oil, but stalled in growth. Twenty states have no nuclear power at all, many more states have only small amounts of nuclear, and the only states to have nuclear as their chief source of power are South Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Hampshire.2 3
Hydro is a far fourth in the power content, with 1,436 hydroelectric plants supplying only 7% of the nation’s electricity. Government-run hydro plants are concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, with Washington, Oregon, and Idaho as leading states. Only 5 states use more than 48% hydropower, with most states using less than 10% hydropower.3
Wind is the fastest growing source of power, with 843 wind-powered electric plants supplying 5% of the nation’s electricity. Most of this growth is centered around the Great Plains, where constant wind blows steadily over the flatlands. It’s a major source of power in 5 states; Iowa and South Dakota get one third of their power from wind, followed by Kansas, Vermont and North Dakota.2
Solar is still struggling to maintain a foothold and hasn’t seen much growth despite the constant push for more solar incentives and rebates. 772 solar-powered electric plants in the U.S supply just 1 percent of the nation’s electricity. That said, many individuals run their own solar power systems either off of or supplemental to the grid. Thirty-nine states have no solar generating plants. The Southwest is the biggest consumer; California uses 8% solar energy, Nevada uses 5%, and Arizona uses 4%.2
Oil now only accounts for a tiny fraction of the nation’s power; after the oil shock of the 1970s, electricity production shifted to coal resources. 1,098 oil-powered electric plants supply just 1 percent of the nation’s electricity, with Hawaii being the only state to use a majority of oil generated electricity.3
Over the coming decade, coal is expected to decline as an electric power source. Natural gas will continue to rise, even if fracking practices are slowed or discontinued. Hydro may expand in viable areas of the US; nuclear is likely to remain stable but experience no appreciable growth; while wind and solar can be expected to grow steadily.
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