We use electricity every day without thinking twice about it. Flip a switch or push a button and it’s there. But where does it come from? Where does the electricity generation start?
The short answer to that question is – it depends. In the U.S. electricity doesn’t come from a single source and it’s less centralized now than in any other point in history.
Sources of Electric Power Generation
According to the Energy Information Agency (EIA) electricity is generated from three primary sources:
Fossil Fuels – 2,651 Billion kWh
Since the electric grid first fired up more than 100 years ago, fossil fuels were the source of power. The fuel source is heated to create steam (vaporized water) that rotates turbines that are connected to power generators. The generators convert the energy into electricity.
- Natural Gas (35.1% total share) – In recent years, natural gas has become the primary fossil fuel for generating electricity because it’s cleaner than coal, in abundance and relatively cheap to get out of the ground.
- Coal (27.4% total share) – Coal used to be the #1 source of electricity generation, but over time coal-fired power plants have been shut down in favor of natural gas, nuclear and renewables. Just 10 years ago coal was the primary fuel in 20 states.
- Petroleum (0.6% total share) – Because of the cost, petroleum isn’t commonly used to produce electricity. It’s most prominent in Hawaii, but the state has a goal to use 100% renewables by 2045.
Nuclear – 807 Billion kWh
Nuclear power generates 19.3% of U.S. electricity. Nuclear energy is produced by a process called fission, which is when atoms within a nucleus are split. Fission is capable of producing large amounts of sustainable power. The downside is there are concerns over public safety should there be a disruption at a power plant, and it produces radioactive waste.
Renewables – 713 Billion kWh
All of the renewables together make up 17.1% of electricity production. Many people are surprised to learn hydropower is the top contributor. Whereas some fossil fuels are being used less, renewables are steadily expanding. The use of renewables is expected to grow as the infrastructure is built and the cost goes down.
Hydropower – 7% total share
Wind – 6.6% total share
Solar – 1.6% total share
It’s worth noting that the EIA estimates an additional 30 billion kWh are produced by personal small scale solar photovoltaic systems.
Electricity’s Path: From the Power Plant to Homes and Businesses
Once electricity is generated it has to be distributed from the power plant to the end consumer. The electric grid that delivers power is one of man’s most amazing achievements. It’s an intricate network that’s a complex system of local grids with substations, power lines and distribution transformers that relay electricity across long distances.
The path electricity takes depends on where a person lives and whether the energy market is regulated.
The Power Players
Utilities own and manage the electricity distribution system that connects consumers to the electric grid. They charge consumers a fee for their delivery services. The utility may also handle electric billing.
Suppliers are the entities that generate and supply the electricity that’s distributed to consumers.
Areas With Deregulated Energy
California was the first state to deregulate the energy market, and since then dozens of states have done the same. In deregulated areas, there’s a selection of electricity suppliers that provide the electricity that’s delivered by utilities. Suppliers also offer end consumers a variety of energy plans at variable rates. Consumers can choose the supplier they want to work with and the plan that best serves their needs and budget.
Areas With Regulated Energy
In regulated areas, electricity is typically provided by a single municipal electric utility or an electric cooperative that’s been selected by the local public utility commission. Consumers have no choice in who supplies their electricity and rates are set with no possibility of finding better prices.
Consumers can rest assured that electricity in deregulated areas is just as reliable as regulated markets. This is largely due to the fact that utilities are in charge of maintaining the distribution system and taking care of problems that can disrupt the flow of electricity.
Provider Power is a premier electricity provider in the deregulated markets of Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. If you’re looking for competitive rates from a local supplier check to see which electricity plans are available in your area.