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What Energy Sources Power the World?

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There are many types of maps out there, but one of the most telling ones is a simple satellite image of the Earth at night.

On these powerful images, the darkness is a blank canvas for the bright city lights that represent the vast extent of human geography. The bright spots help us understand the distribution of population, as well as what areas of the world are generally wealthier and more urban. Meanwhile, the big dark spots – such as over the wilderness in northern Canada, the Amazon basin, or in Niger – show areas that are not densely populated or more rural.

Here’s one image based on this principle. It comes from NASA, and is a composite made from 400 separate satellite images from 2012:

Satellite composite image of Earth

How Are These Lights Powered?

But what if we could differentiate, by “shutting off” lights that are powered by certain electricity sources?

Today’s visualizations come from a nifty interactive website put together by GoCompare.com, and they breakdown the world’s electricity by source: fossil fuels, renewables, or nuclear fission.

Fossil Fuels

To start, here are the places on Earth that are powered by fossil fuels.

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Fossil Fuels only

Globally, fossil fuels represent about two-thirds of electricity usage. It’s also worth noting that fossil fuels also make up the majority of non-electrical sources needed for things like automobiles, aircraft, and ships, which are not shown on the map.

For further interest, we have previously shown the evolution over time of total U.S. energy usage, as well as a detailed breakdown of current U.S. usage – both which are still dominated by fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas, and coal.

Nuclear Only

Here are the places on Earth powered by nuclear fission.

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Nuclear only

Nuclear makes up about 10% of all global electricity usage – and France is the world’s most reliant country, getting about 74% of its power mix from nuclear. Also noteworthy is Japan, which has switched its major electrical source from nuclear to fossil fuels since the Fukushima incident in 2011.

Nuclear is a major source of energy in the rest of Europe as well.

Belgium (51%), Sweden (43%), Hungary (51%), Slovakia (55%), Czech Republic (35%), Slovenia (33%), Ukraine (43%), and Finland (33%) all draw significant amounts of their electricity from nuclear reactors.

Renewables

Last, but not least, are renewables.

(Click image to see larger version)
Renewables only

It’s important to remember here that hydroelectricity is the largest renewable energy source by far, and that countries like Canada and Brazil rely on hydro extensively.

Outside of hydro, Italy is a leader in solar generation (6% of all electricity). Meanwhile, just eight countries host over 80% of all installed wind power: France, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, India, Germany, USA, and China.

Finally, it’s worth noting that there are four smaller countries that get all, or nearly all, of their electricity from renewable sources. Those include Iceland (72% hydro, 28% geothermal), Albania (100% hydro), Paraguay (100% hydro), and Norway (97% hydro, 2% fossil fuels, and 1% other).

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Energy

Mapped: Every Power Plant in the United States

What sources of power are closest to you, and how has this mix changed over the last 10 years? See every power plant in the U.S. on this handy map.

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This Map Shows Every Power Plant in the United States

Every year, the United States generates 4,000 million MWh of electricity from utility-scale sources.

While the majority comes from fossil fuels like natural gas (32.1%) and coal (29.9%), there are also many other minor sources that feed into the grid, ranging from biomass to geothermal.

Do you know where your electricity comes from?

The Big Picture View

Today’s series of maps come from Weber State University, and they use information from the EPA’s eGRID databases to show every utility-scale power plant in the country.

Use the white slider in the middle below to see how things have changed between 2007 and 2016:

The biggest difference between the two maps is the reduced role of coal, which is no longer the most dominant energy source in the country. You can also see many smaller-scale wind and solar dots appear throughout the appropriate regions.

Here’s a similar look at how the energy mix has changed in the United States over the last 70 years:

Energy net generation over time

Up until the 21st century, power almost always came from fossil fuels, nuclear, or hydro sources. More recently, we can see different streams of renewables making a dent in the mix.

Maps by Source

Now let’s look at how these maps look by individual sources to see regional differences more clearly.

Here’s the map only showing fossil fuels.

Fossil fuel power plants in the U.S.

The two most prominent sources are coal (black) and natural gas (orange), and they combine to make up about 60% of total annual net generation.

Now here’s just nuclear on the map:

Nuclear power plants in the U.S.

Nuclear is pretty uncommon on the western half of the country, but on the Eastern Seaboard and in the Midwest, it is a major power source. All in all, it makes up about 20% of the annual net generation mix.

Finally, a look at renewable energy:

Renewables power plants in the U.S.

Hydro (dark blue), wind (light blue), solar (yellow), biomass (brown), and geothermal (green) all appear here.

Aside from a few massive hydro installations – such as the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State (19 million MWh per year) – most renewable installations are on a smaller scale.

Generally speaking, renewable sources are also more dependent on geography. You can’t put geothermal in an area where there is no thermal energy in the ground, or wind where there is mostly calm weather. For this reason, the dispersion of green sources around the country is also quite interesting to look at.

See all of the above, as well as Hawaii and Alaska, in an interactive map here.

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Energy

The Periodic Table of Commodity Returns

This unique chart shows the performance of individual commodities over the last decade – see commodity returns in 2018, and how they compared to previous years.

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Periodic Table of Commodity Returns (2019 Edition)

Commodities are an interesting asset class to watch.

In certain years, all commodities will move in price together in an obvious and correlated fashion. This is a representation of the cyclical characteristics of commodity markets, in which macroeconomic factors align to create a tide that lifts or sinks all boats.

At the same time, however, each individual commodity is incredibly unique with its own specific set of supply and demand circumstances. In the years when these supply or demand crunches materialize, a certain commodity can surge or crash in price, separating itself from the rest of the pack.

A Decade of Commodity Returns

Today’s visualization comes to us from our friends at U.S. Global Investors, and it tracks commodity returns over the last decade.

More specifically, it takes a closer look at individual commodities (i.e. corn, gold, oil, zinc) to show how performance can vary over time. With a quick examination of the graphic, you can see years where commodities moved together – and some years where individual commodities stole the show unexpectedly.

Palladium: A Perennial Winner

The best performing commodity in 2018 was palladium, which found itself up 18.6% – just enough to edge out corn, which jumped up 17.9% in price last year.

Interestingly, palladium has also been the best performing commodity over the 10-year period as well:

Palladium is the best performing commodity

Palladium has finished in first place in four of the last 10 years, including in 2017 and 2018 – it’s also impressive to note that palladium has only had negative returns twice in the last decade (2011, 2015).

A Crude Awakening

The worst performing commodity in 2018 was crude oil, which fell -24.8% in price.

Like palladium, this wasn’t a unique occurrence: crude has actually been the worst performing commodity investment over the last decade:

Oil is the worst performing commodity

As you can see, crude oil has been the worst (or second worst) commodity in three of the last five years.

Further, as our chart on how all assets performed in 2018 shows, crude oil was outperformed by every other asset class, and the energy sector had the poorest performance out of all S&P 500 sectors last year.

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