We’re living in a time of unprecedented change.
Our snail mail has turned to email. We’ve traded our TVs and radios for Netflix and iTunes. Instead of going to the store down the street, we do our shopping online, and we can even pay with crypto instead of cash.
Our world is transforming, and so is the energy industry.
The Changing Energy Industry
Today’s animation comes to us from California ISO, and it shows the challenges faced by the energy industry as they plan ahead for the energy needs of the future.
As the world grows more environmentally conscious, the energy sector faces new demands:
Environmental concerns have brought clean energy systems to center stage, as we look for ways to reduce our dependence on greenhouse gases and preserve our planet for future generations. The push to eliminate fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions means we need to find ways to power coal-dependent sectors with renewable energy.
As new technologies emerge, they provide us with revolutionary ways to approach energy storage and efficiency, while bringing different types of renewable energies within our reach.
Energy grids have become less centralized over time, as grids move away from power plants in favor of distributed energy sources. Groupings of smaller energy sources are less vulnerable to failure, and provide reliable, cost effective energy options for consumers.
Economic demands push for competitive pricing and consumer rates, as they impact economic viability and promote healthy investment in the energy sector.
Renewable energy policies are progressing at the highest levels, as governments around the world set ambitious renewable energy goals for their nation.
Consumers are no longer mere users of electricity, but informed producers. Through rooftop solar energy collection and the development of microgrids, consumers now have the option to gather energy reserves through their own clean energy systems and feed this back into the grid, making a positive impact on their communities.
With all these competing influences, the global energy industry now faces the challenge of creating a system capable of meeting the energy demands of our changing world.
Where to from here?
Planning for the energy needs of the future is no easy task. It’s a challenge to ensure reliable energy provision for consumers, leveraging emerging technology while hedging against disruptive factors like natural disasters which impact energy infrastructure.
There is no single solution, but a network of interconnected solutions working together can improve strengthen green energy provision as our world continues to evolve.
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.
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:
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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 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:
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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