Fossil fuels, nukes keep the lights on in the USA

Click to enlarge.

According to the Energy Information Agency, the U.S. generates 4.03 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

Natural gas is now the top energy source at 32.1% of the total generating capacity, followed very closely by coal at 29.9%. Other major sources include Nuclear (20%), Hydropower (7.4%) and Wind (6.3%).

Finally, while solar is growing, it still only accounts for 1.3% of large scale energy generation (small scale solar [e.g. rooftop] would increase this by around 50%).

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

It’s going to be hard to expand the use of solar power and other renewable sources of electric power, because they depend on weather conditions, geographic location or both.

Until energy storage becomes really cheap, the USA and other countries are going to need nuclear power—hopefully in modern, well-maintained plants on sites not subject to earthquake or flooding.


This Map Shows Every Power Plant in the United States by Jeff Desjardins for Visual Capitalist.  More details.

U.S. Power Plants by Daniel V. Schroeder of Weber State University  Interactive map with even more detail.

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5 Responses to “Fossil fuels, nukes keep the lights on in the USA”

  1. whungerford Says:

    We have enough experience with current nuclear technology to expect a serious accident somewhere every decade or two; that risk should be considered. Many nuclear plants today have exceeded their design lifetime which adds to the danger. We urgently need an alternative to nuclear which doesn’t depend on fossil fuels.


    • philebersole Says:

      I agree that we need to retire and replace our current nuclear plants, for the reasons you give.

      Until and unless thee is a breakthrough in energy storage and / or transmission technology, it’s not going to be feasible to replace them with renewable energy. We want to phase out fossil fuels, which contribute to the overheating of the planet, and eventually the fossil fuels are going to be burned up anyway.

      So what’s left? Maybe our descendants will learn to do without electricity.


  2. whungerford Says:

    What’s left is solar. The bottom chart shows that solar generation would need to increase 10 times to replace nuclear generation, 50 times to meet the entire need, but it did increase by 100 times in just nine years. As noted, improvements in storage and transmission would be needed, but those technologies exist.


  3. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    The “quick” solution (I use the term advisedly) is to go to Thorium based reactors. The only reason we aren’t going there now are vast amounts of money are resources dedicated to our current primary reactor technology. Reactor manfacturers don’t want to change.

    The long term solution is fusion.

    Of course, commercial fusion has been only 30 years away for the last 60 years. It finally looks like they will be making a go of it in Europe by building one that generates more power than it consumes. It will be expensive but this is a proof of concept plant. Once we get the kinks out of it, costs will drop.

    Fusion power ought to have been the next “moon shot” but it was not pursued with the nearly same level of aggressiveness until recently.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. peteybee Says:

    Good stuff. I would expect a big future for wind power in even more parts of the counry than solar.

    One thing I don’t have the best confidence in, is that nuclear, in combination with wind/solar, is going to require a coordinated effort on the part of government to make it work.

    As wind+solar eventually get built out to full scale (say approaching 50% of total electricity in a region, on the best day of the year), their intermittent nature means that some generation source will have to be idle much of the year. This will put even more financial pressure on nuclear. In theory, nuclear is already uneconomic, but of course we don’t want to use carbon as the backup to renewables, and also can’t have the lights go out.

    It falls on a combination of industry and regulators to work it out, but there are so many stories in recent years (Boeing 737 being the most recent) that make this at least a little worrisome.

    Liked by 1 person

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