Road to Decarbonization: The United States Electricity Mix
The U.S. response to climate change and decarbonization is ramping up, and putting a focus on the country’s electricity mix.
As pressure has increased for near-term and immediate action after the UN’s latest IPCC report on climate change, major economies are starting to make bolder pledges. For the United States, that includes a carbon pollution-free utilities sector by 2035.
But with 50 states and even more territories—each with different energy sources readily available and utilized—some parts of the U.S. are a lot closer to carbon-free electricity than others.
How does each state’s electricity mix compare? This infographic from the National Public Utilities Council highlights the energy sources used for electricity in U.S. states during 2020, using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The U.S. Electricity Generation Mix By State
How does the United States generate electricity currently?
Over the course of 2020, the U.S. generated 4,009 TWh of electricity, with the majority coming from fossil fuels. Natural gas (40.3%) was the biggest source of electricity for the country, accounting for more than nuclear (19.7%) and coal (17.3%) combined.
Including nuclear energy, non-fossil fuels made up 41.9% of U.S. electricity generation in 2020. The biggest sources of renewable electricity in the U.S. were wind (8.4%) and hydro (7.3%).
But on a state-by-state breakdown, we can see just how different the electricity mix is across the country (rounded to the nearest percentage).
|State (Electricity Source 2020)||Coal||Gas||Oil||Nuclear||Hydro||Geothermal||Solar||Wind||Biomass and Other|
At a glance, regional availability of a fuel source and historical use is clear.
For example, coal is the most-used electricity source in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Wyoming, historical coal rich regions and economies.
On the flip side, the Pacific Northwest and New England generated the most hydroelectricity, and the biggest producers of wind energy were all located in the Great Plains. Even the biggest percentage producers of solar and geothermal energy, California and Nevada, have plenty of access to sunlight and geothermal activity.
The Changing Electricity Landscape
But for the U.S. to reach its ambitious carbon-free goal by 2035, the biggest impact will need to come from the biggest electricity producers.
That title currently goes to Texas, which generated 12% of total U.S. electricity in 2020. Despite being the most populous state, California generated less than half Texas’ output, and less than both Florida and Pennsylvania.
|State||Electricity Generated 2020 (TWh)|
So although it’s positive that many states in the Pacific Northwest and New England have more plentiful non-fossil fuel electricity, their overall impact on the total U.S. picture is lessened.
Still, more and more states (and countries) are increasing their efforts and ambitions to decarbonize, and that progress makes it easier and more affordable over time. States that might struggle to attain carbon-free electricity, or where costs are too high, face less hurdles as technology improves and subsidies increase.
And with most major U.S. based utilities focusing on improving their ESG reporting and keeping up with decarbonization pledges of their own, the total electricity mix is expected to shift rapidly over the next decade.
National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource for all things decarbonization in the utilities industry. Learn more.
The History of U.S. Energy Independence
This infographic traces the history of U.S. energy independence, showing the events that have shaped oil demand and imports over 150 years.
The History of U.S. Energy Independence
Energy independence has long been a part of America’s political history and foreign policy, especially since the 1970s.
Despite long being a leader in energy production, the U.S. has often still relied on oil imports to meet its growing needs. This “energy dependence” left the country and American consumers vulnerable to supply disruptions and oil price shocks.
The above infographic from Surge Battery Metals traces the history of U.S. energy independence, highlighting key events that shaped the country’s import reliance for oil. This is part one of three infographics in the Energy Independence Series.
How the U.S. Became Energy Dependent
Oil was first commercially drilled in the U.S. in 1859, when Colonel Edwin Drake developed an oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania.
Twenty years later in 1880, the U.S. was responsible for 85% of global crude oil production and refining. But over the next century, the country became increasingly dependent on oil imports.
Here are some key events that affected America’s oil dependence and foreign policy during that time according to the Council on Foreign Relations:
- 1908: Henry Ford invented the Model T, the world’s first mass-produced and affordable car.
- 1914-1918: The U.S. began importing small quantities of oil from Mexico to meet the demands of World War I and domestic consumption.
- 1942: In efforts to save gas and fuel for World War II, the Office of Defense Transportation implemented a national plan limiting driving speeds to 35 miles per hour.
- 1943: President Roosevelt provided financial support to Saudi Arabia and declared Saudi oil critical to U.S. security.
- 1950: With 40 million cars on the road, the U.S. became a net importer of oil bringing in around 500,000 barrels per day.
- 1970: Twentieth century U.S. oil production peaked and President Nixon eased oil import quotas, allowing an additional 100,000 barrels per day in imports.
The U.S. economy’s increasing reliance on oil imports made it vulnerable to supply disruptions. For example, in 1973, in response to the U.S.’ support for Israel, Arab members of the OPEC imposed an embargo on oil exports to Western nations, creating the first “oil shock”. Oil prices nearly quadrupled, and American consumers felt the shock through long lineups at gas stations along with high inflation. Combined with rising unemployment rates and flattening wages, the increase in prices led to a period of stagflation.
Despite the energy crisis, U.S. oil production fell for decades, while the country met its increasing energy needs with oil from abroad.
The Rise and Fall of U.S. Oil Imports
Here’s how U.S. net imports of crude oil and petroleum products has evolved since 1950 in comparison with consumption and production. All figures are in millions of barrels per day (bpd).
|Year||Consumption (bpd)||Production (bpd)||Net imports (bpd)|
Net oil imports quadrupled between 1960 and 1980, marking the two biggest decadal jumps. Given that production was falling while consumption was booming, it’s clear why the U.S. needed to rely on imports.
Imports peaked in 2005, with net imports accounting for a record 60% of domestic consumption. Both imports and consumption fell in the years that followed. In 2009, for the first time since 1970, U.S. oil production increased thanks to the shale boom. It ascended until 2019 to make the U.S. the world’s largest oil producer.
As of 2021, the U.S. was a net exporter of refined petroleum products and hydrocarbon liquids but remained a net importer of crude oil.
The New Era of Energy
Oil and fossil fuels have long played a central role in the global energy mix. The U.S.’ reliance on other countries for oil made it energy-dependent, exposing American gas consumers to geopolitical shocks and volatile oil prices.
Today, the global energy shift away from fossil fuels towards cleaner sources of generation offers a new opportunity to use lessons from the past. By securing the raw materials needed to enable the energy transition, the U.S. can build a clean energy future independent of foreign sources.
In the next part of the Energy Independence Series sponsored by Surge Battery Metals, we will explore the New Era of Energy and the role of electric vehicles and renewables in the ongoing energy transition.
Ranked: Emissions per Capita of the Top 30 U.S. Investor-Owned Utilities
Roughly 25% of all GHG emissions come from electricity production. See how the top 30 IOUs rank by emissions per capita.
Emissions per Capita of the Top 30 U.S. Investor-Owned Utilities
Approximately 25% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) come from electricity generation.
Subsequently, this means investor-owned utilities (IOUs) will have a crucial role to play around carbon reduction initiatives. This is particularly true for the top 30 IOUs, where almost 75% of utility customers get their electricity from.
This infographic from the National Public Utilities Council ranks the largest IOUs by emissions per capita. By accounting for the varying customer bases they serve, we get a more accurate look at their green energy practices. Here’s how they line up.
Per Capita Rankings
The emissions per capita rankings for the top 30 investor-owned utilities have large disparities from one another.
Totals range from a high of 25.8 tons of CO2 per customer annually to a low of 0.5 tons.
|Utility||Emissions Per Capita (CO2 tons per year)||Total Emissions (M)|
|Berkshire Hathaway Energy||14.0||57.2|
|American Electric Power||9.2||50.9|
|Florida Power and Light||8.0||41.0|
|Portland General Electric||7.6||6.9|
|Pacific Gas and Electric||0.5||2.6|
|Next Era Energy Resources||0||1.1|
PNM Resources data is from 2019, all other data is as of 2020
Let’s start by looking at the higher scoring IOUs.
TransAlta emits 25.8 tons of CO2 emissions per customer, the largest of any utility on a per capita basis. Altogether, the company’s 630,000 customers emit 16.3 million metric tons. On a recent earnings call, its management discussed clear intent to phase out coal and grow their renewables mix by doubling their renewables fleet. And so far it appears they’ve been making good on their promise, having shut down the Canadian Highvale coal mine recently.
Vistra had the highest total emissions at 97 million tons of CO2 per year and is almost exclusively a coal and gas generator. However, the company announced plans for 60% reductions in CO2 emissions by 2030 and is striving to be carbon neutral by 2050. As the highest total emitter, this transition would make a noticeable impact on total utility emissions if successful.
Currently, based on their 4.3 million customers, Vistra sees per capita emissions of 22.4 tons a year. The utility is a key electricity provider for Texas, ad here’s how their electricity mix compares to that of the state as a whole:
|Energy Source||Vistra||State of Texas|
Despite their ambitious green energy pledges, for now only 1% of Vistra’s electricity comes from renewables compared to 24% for Texas, where wind energy is prospering.
Based on those scores, the average customer from some of the highest emitting utility groups emit about the same as a customer from each of the bottom seven, who clearly have greener energy practices. Let’s take a closer look at emissions for some of the bottom scoring entities.
Utilities With The Greenest Energy Practices
Groups with the lowest carbon emission scores are in many ways leaders on the path towards a greener future.
Exelon emits only 3.8 tons of CO2 emissions per capita annually and is one of the top clean power generators across the Americas. In the last decade they’ve reduced their GHG emissions by 18 million metric tons, and have recently teamed up with the state of Illinois through the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Through this, Exelon will receive $700 million in subsidies as it phases out coal and gas plants to meet 2030 and 2045 targets.
Consolidated Edison serves nearly 4 million customers with a large chunk coming from New York state. Altogether, they emit 1.6 tons of CO2 emissions per capita from their electricity generation.
The utility group is making notable strides towards a sustainable future by expanding its renewable projects and testing higher capacity limits. In addition, they are often praised for their financial management and carry the title of dividend aristocrat, having increased their dividend for 47 years and counting. In fact, this is the longest out of any utility company in the S&P 500.
A Sustainable Tomorrow
Altogether, utilities will have a pivotal role to play in decarbonization efforts. This is particularly true for the top 30 U.S. IOUs, who serve millions of Americans.
Ultimately, this means a unique moment for utilities is emerging. As the transition toward cleaner energy continues and various groups push to achieve their goals, all eyes will be on utilities to deliver.
The National Public Utilities Council is the go-to resource to learn how utilities can lead in the path towards decarbonization.
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