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The Evolution of America’s Energy Supply (1776 – 2014)

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The Evolution of America's Energy Supply (1776 - 2014)

The Evolution of America’s Energy Supply (1776 – 2014)

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently released data on the history of America’s energy supply, sorted by the share of each energy source. We’ve taken that data to create the chart associated with today’s post.

Related Topic: Mapping Every Power Plant in the United States

The early settlers to North America relied on organic materials on the surface of land for the vast majority of their energy needs. Wood, brush, and other biomass fuels were burned to warm homes, and eventually to power steam engines. Small amounts of coal were found in riverbeds and other such outcrops, but only local homes in the vicinity of these deposits were able to take advantage of it for household warmth.

During the Industrial Revolution, it was the invention of the first coal-powered, commercially practical locomotives that turned the tide. Although wood would still be used in the majority of locomotives until 1870, the transition to fossil fuels had begun.

Coke, a product of heating certain types of coal, replaced wood charcoal as the fuel for iron blast furnaces in 1875. Thomas Edison built the first practical coal-fired electric generating station in 1882, which supplied electricity to some residents in New York City. It was just after this time in the 1910s that the United States would be the largest coal producer in the world with 750,000 miners and blasting 550 million tons of coal a year.

The invention of the internal combustion engine and the development of new electrical technologies, including those developed by people like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, were the first steps towards today’s modern power landscape. Fuels such as petroleum and natural gas became very useful, and the first mass-scale hydroelectric stations were built such as Hoover Dam, which opened in 1936.

The discovery and advancement of nuclear technology led to the first nuclear submarine in 1954, and the first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States in Pennsylvania in 1957. In a relatively short period of time, nuclear would have a profound effect on energy supply, and it today 99 nuclear reactors account for 20% of all electricity generated in the United States.

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

In more recent decades, scientists found that the current energy mix is not ideal from an environmental perspective. Advancements in renewable energy solutions such as solar, wind, and geothermal were made, helping set up a potential energy revolution. Battery technology, a key challenge for many years, has began to catch up to allow us to store larger amounts of energy when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Companies like Tesla are spending billions of dollars on battery megafactories that will have a great impact on our energy use.

Today, the United States gets the majority of its energy from fossil fuels, though that percentage is slowly decreasing. While oil is still the primary fuel of choice for transportation, it now only generates 1% of the country’s electricity through power plants. Natural gas has also taken on a bigger role over time, because it is perceived as being cleaner than oil and coal.

Today, in 2015, wind and solar power have generated 5% and 1% of total electricity respectively. Hydro generates 7%.

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Energy

Map: The Countries With the Most Oil Reserves

See the countries with the most oil reserves on this map, which resizes each country based on how many barrels of oil are contained in its borders.

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Map: The Countries With the Most Oil Reserves

There’s little doubt that renewable energy sources will play a strategic role in powering the global economy of the future.

But for now, crude oil is still the undisputed heavyweight champion of the energy world.

In 2018, we consumed more oil than any prior year in history – about 99.3 million barrels per day on a global basis. This number is projected to rise again in 2019 to 100.8 million barrels per day.

The Most Oil Reserves by Country

Given that oil will continue to be dominant in the energy mix for the short and medium term, which countries hold the most oil reserves?

Today’s map comes from HowMuch.net and it uses data from the CIA World Factbook to resize countries based on the amount of oil reserves they hold.

Here’s the data for the top 15 countries below:

RankCountryOil Reserves (Barrels)
#1🇻🇪 Venezuela300.9 billion
#2🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia266.5 billion
#3🇨🇦 Canada169.7 billion
#4🇮🇷 Iran158.4 billion
#5🇮🇶 Iraq142.5 billion
#6🇰🇼 Kuwait101.5 billion
#7🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates97.8 billion
#8🇷🇺 Russia80.0 billion
#9🇱🇾 Libya48.4 billion
#10🇳🇬 Nigeria37.1 billion
#11🇺🇸 United States36.5 billion
#12🇰🇿 Kazakhstan30.0 billion
#13🇨🇳 China25.6 billion
#14🇶🇦 Qatar25.2 billion
#15🇧🇷 Brazil12.7 billion

Venezuela tops the list with 300.9 billion barrels of oil in reserve – but even this vast wealth in natural resources has not been enough to save the country from its recent economic and humanitarian crisis.

Saudi Arabia, a country known for its oil dominance, takes the #2 spot with 266.5 billion barrels of oil. Meanwhile, Canada and the U.S. are found at the #3 (169.7 billion bbls) and the #11 (36.5 billion bbls) spots respectively.

The Cost of Production

While having an endowment of billions of barrels of oil within your borders can be a strategic gift from mother nature, it’s worth mentioning that reserves are just one factor in assessing the potential value of this crucial resource.

In Saudi Arabia, for example, the production cost of oil is roughly $3.00 per barrel, which makes black gold strategic to produce at almost any possible price.

Other countries are not so lucky:

CountryProduction cost (bbl)Total cost (bbl)*
🇬🇧 United Kingdom$17.36$44.33
🇧🇷 Brazil$9.45$34.99
🇳🇬 Nigeria$8.81$28.99
🇻🇪 Venezuela$7.94$27.62
🇨🇦 Canada$11.56$26.64
🇺🇸 U.S. shale$5.85$23.35
🇳🇴 Norway$4.24$21.31
🇺🇸 U.S. non-shale$5.15$20.99
🇮🇩 Indonesia$6.87$19.71
🇷🇺 Russia$2.98$19.21
🇮🇶 Iraq$2.16$10.57
🇮🇷 Iran$1.94$9.09
🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia$3.00$8.98
*Total cost (bbl) includes production cost (also shown), capital spending, gross taxes, and admin/transport costs.

Even if a country is blessed with some of the most oil reserves in the world, it may not be able to produce and sell that oil to maximize the potential benefit.

Countries like Canada and Venezuela are hindered by geology – in these places, the majority of oil is extra heavy crude or bitumen (oil sands), and these types of oil are simply more difficult and costly to extract.

In other places, obstacles are are self-imposed. In some countries, like Brazil and the U.S., there are higher taxes on oil production, which raises the total cost per barrel.

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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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