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Mapping Every Power Plant in the United States

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Note: Updated to reflect 2017 numbers

The Washington Post has put together an extraordinary data visualization that shows how the United States has generated its electricity so far this year. Using data from the Energy Information Administration, they have mapped every power source and categorized it by type and size.

Related Topic: What it Takes to Power New York (Slideshow)

I will recap the most interesting parts of their project here, but we highly recommend that you visit their online interactive version of this visualization to get the most out of their work.

Plant Capacity by Megawatt

Plant Capacity by Megawatt

This above visualization is a little overwhelming, as it includes every power source in America. However, later on we will show various visualizations by power type, which make it easier to make sense of.

Power Generated by Source: Coal

Coal-fired power

Data visualized like this shows there is still a large reliance on specific energy types such as coal, hydro, and nuclear. For example, in 2017, 27 states still rely on coal to produce at least 25% of their electricity.

Meanwhile, the following chart on solar shows how far photovoltaics still have to go to make a significant impact in the overall energy mix.

Power Generated by Source: Solar

Solar power

While community solar farms are starting to take off in the United States, solar technology as a whole still does not provide substantial amounts of electricity. It is clear that California is the leader in solar capacity, but it actually only accounts for 10% of total electricity generation in the state.

Coal Power Map

Coal power plants map

The United States has 400 coal-fired power plants that generate 30% of the nation’s electricity. Coal produces the majority of energy in 13 sates, but thanks to America’s Clean Power Plan, a whopping 111 plants have been shut down since 2015.

Natural Gas Power Map

Natural Gas Map

The United States has 1,793 natural gas power plants that generate 34% of the nation’s electricity. Natural gas is the primary source of power in 19 states.

Nuclear Power Map

Nuclear power plants map

The United States has 61 nuclear reactors that generate 20% of the nation’s electricity. 20 states get no power from nuclear at all.

Hydro Power Map

Hydro power plants map

The United States has 1,444 hydroelectric dams that generate 7% of the nation’s electricity. The Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State has 6,809 MW of installed capacity, making it the largest contributor in nameplate capacity in the country. (However, as Forbes notes, actual electricity generated depends on capacity factor.)

Wind Power Map

Wind power plants map

The United States has 999 wind power plants that generate 6% of the nation’s electricity. The best source for wind is in the Great Plains, where it blows very reliably. Around 2010, China leapfrogged the USA with parabolic wind power growth.

Solar Power Map

Solar power plants map

The United States has 1,721 solar power plants that generate 1% of the nation’s electricity.

Oil Power Map

Oil power plants map

The United States has 1,076 oil-fired power plants that generate less than 1% of the nation’s electricity. America is shaking off its addiction to oil and no longer relies on it for generating electricity because of price swings. Hawaii is the only state to get the majority of its energy from oil.

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Energy

Visualizing U.S. Energy Use in One Giant Chart

This interesting diagram breaks down all U.S. energy use by both source and industry, and everything that happens in between.

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Visualizing U.S. Energy Use in One Giant Chart

If you feel like you’ve seen this diagram before, you probably have.

Every year, it’s assembled by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a research center founded by UC Berkeley and funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The ambitious aim is to chart all U.S. energy use in one Sankey diagram, including the original energy source (i.e. nuclear, oil, wind, etc.) as well as the ultimate end use (i.e. residential, commercial, etc.) for the energy that was generated.

U.S. Energy Use in 2018

According to the research center’s most recent published version of the diagram, U.S. energy use totaled 101.2 quads in 2018.

In case you are wondering, a single quad is equal to 1 quadrillion BTUs, with each quad being roughly equivalent to 185 million barrels of crude oil, 8 billion gallons of gasoline, or 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Here is how the recent figure compares to previous years:

YearU.S. Energy Consumption% Fossil Fuels in Mix
2018101.2 quads80.2%
201797.7 quads80.0%
201697.3 quads80.8%
201597.2 quads81.6%
201498.3 quads81.6%

As you can see in the table, U.S. energy use has been generally increasing, eventually topping 100 quads per year by 2018. During this time, the total percentage of fossil fuels in the mix has dropped, but only from 81.6% to 80.2%.

Taking a closer look at the data, we can see that the largest percentage increases in the mix have come from solar and wind sources:

Source20142015201620172018Change ('14-'18)
Solar0.4270.4260.5870.7750.949+122%
Wind1.731.782.112.352.53+46%

Energy use measured in quads (1 quadrillion BTUs)

Solar use has increased 122% since 2014, while wind jumped 46% over the same timeframe. Not surprisingly, energy derived from coal has fallen by 26%.

Dealing With the Rejects

One interesting thing about the diagram is that it also shows rejected energy, which represents the energy that actually gets wasted due to various inefficiencies. In fact, 68% of all energy generated is not harnessed for any productive use.

This makes sense, since gasoline engines are usually only about 20-40% efficient, and even electric engines are 85-90% efficient. Put another way, a certain percentage of energy is always released as heat, sound, light, or other forms that are hard for us to harness.

As electric cars rise in popularity and as modern gas-powered engines also get more efficient, there is hope that the amount of this rejected energy will decrease over time.

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Mapped: Fossil Fuel Production by Country

These four animated cartograms show the nations leading the world in fossil fuel production, in terms of oil, gas, coal, and total hydrocarbons.

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Fossil fuels exist as a double-edged sword for most countries.

On one hand, they still make up a dominant piece of the current energy mix, and oil is still seen as a crucial resource for achieving geopolitical significance. It’s also no secret that fossil fuels are a driver for many economies around the world.

But with governments and corporations counting carbon emissions and mounting concerns about climate change, reliance on these same fuels will not last forever. As attitudes and policies evolve, they will continue to see a reduced role going forward.

Visualizing Fossil Fuels by Country

So, which countries are pumping out the most hydrocarbons?

Today’s cartograms come from 911Metallurgist, and the animated maps resize each country based on their share of global fossil fuel production.

Below, you’ll see four cartograms that cover oil, gas, coal, and total fossil fuel production.

Crude Oil Production

The United States leads this category, producing about 18% of the world’s total oil:

Oil production by country

Although the U.S. is the number one producer globally, it should be noted that the country doesn’t have the same quantity of oil reserves as other leading nations.

Weirdly, Venezuela has the exact opposite problem. The country has the most oil reserves in the world, but currently only sits as its 12th biggest producer.

Natural Gas Production

In terms of gas, the U.S. leads again with a 20% share of global production. Russia is also a gas powerhouse, with a 17.3% share.

Natural gas production by country

After the U.S. and Russia, it’s a fairly steep dropoff in terms of natural gas production. Countries like Iran, Canada, Qatar, and China are the next most significant players, but they each only produce 4-6% of the global total.

Coal Production

Coal use may be on the decline, but China still produces a whopping 45% of the world’s coal.

Coal production by country

China’s current relationship with coal is an interesting one.

Every year, coal has become less important in China’s energy mix – in 2011 it represented 70% of energy consumption, and by 2018 it had fell to 59%.

Despite this meaningful progress, China’s economy has grown so fast, that coal use has essentially held steady in absolute terms. Meanwhile, the country’s production of coal has actually grown slightly over the same timeframe.

Total Fossil Fuel Production

Finally, here is the sum of all three above categories, converted to metric tonnes:

Total fossil fuel production by country

The United States produces 20% of all global fossil fuels, with Russia and Iran rounding out the top three. After that comes Canada, which produces just under 5% of all fossil fuels globally.

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