There is no denying that petroleum, natural gas, and coal are the main sources of energy in the United States. With that in mind, it may come as a surprise that in 2014, approximately 10% of the energy consumed in the United States came from renewable sources. Renewables also account for approximately 13% of the nation’s total electricity production.
In the world of renewable energy, hydroelectric is the most common, generating 7% of all electricity. As of 2015, there are over 1420 hydroelectric dams. The dams in the Western portion of the country produce the most electricity with the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington generating 1/3 of the nation’s hydropower. The Hoover Dam in Nevada is another dam that is very well known. All the other dams throughout the country are dwarfed in comparison but it’s not likely there will be additional large dams built in the United States. Most ideal dam sites are extremely controversial and could easily impact the environment; some dam sites have already damaged ecosystems and environmentalists have asked that the dams be torn down.
Behind hydropower, generating 4.9% of all electricity is wind-powered electricity. Texas, Iowa, California and Oklahoma top the list of states that generate the most wind-powered electricity. The number of wind turbines has dramatically increased in a short amount of time due to the government giving tax credits and subsidies for wind usage. Another reason for the sharp increase is that many states have laws requiring utility companies to use wind to acquire a certain portion of their electricity generation.
While the most talked about, solar power is one of the smallest players on the United States electricity production team. It provides around 0.6% of electricity but that number is set to increase. There are a few reasons for that. One is due to the price of the panels significantly dropping. The other reason is due to tax credits that let homeowners sell their unneeded solar-generated electricity back to the grid. Selling unneeded electricity back to the utility is called “net metering. Many states have laws that allow it and it’s something that a lot of utility companies are concerned about.
More and more solar-powered homes are buying less electricity but the utility company still has to manage the costs of hooking these customers up to the grid. When looking at the numbers, if rooftop solar got to 10% of the market, the overall earnings for utility companies could fall from 49% to 41%. The utility has a responsibility to maintain the grid and there are costs involved in doing so. If fewer people are using their electricity, they must make up the cost somewhere. With this worry in mind, there are proposals in 20 different states to scale back net metering laws. Their proposals have been met with mixed results.
Bringing up the rear is geothermal. Its total production is extremely small but has huge growth potential.
Renewable energy will only continue to gain popularity. Between hydro-power, wind, solar, and geothermal there are so many ways to generate electricity that are free of carbon emissions. The future of energy looks bright in the United States.