Electricity Transformation - part 1

I have been taking some interesting courses through Coursera. "Global Sustainable Energy" was one of them. I wrote following as one of the homework assignments last June. Energy climate is rapidly changing. Data I gathered here is already outdated - for better I may add. What I wrote seems widely accepted now.


According to EIA data, the US generated roughly 4 billion KWh of electricity in 2012. Its breakdown by source indicates about 68% was from fossil fuel sources (coal, natural gas, and petroleum). Below is the total breakdown:

  • Coal 37%
  • Natural Gas 30%
  • Nuclear 19%
  • Hydropower 7%
  • Other Renewable 5%
    • Biomass 1.42%
    • Geothermal 0.41%
    • Solar 0.11%
    • Wind 3.46%
  • Petroleum 1%
  • Other Gases < 1%
Coal use, although still the biggest single source, has declined from 48% of total electricity generated in 2008 to 37% in 2012. The same data shows the percentage of natural gas rose from 21% to 30% during the same period. Many argue that natural gas simply displaced the portion of coal because coal become too expensive while natural gas became cheap; I won’t disagree. But, what about the causes behind coal’s increased cost? Higher quality coal near the Earth’s surface had been mostly mined out. Evidence implicating coal’s role in pollution and environmental damage was piling up. Many voiced concerns that translated to tighter regulation, which led to expensive coal power. Coal was no longer cheap and abundant, and so lost its market appeal.

The fossil fuel industry’s solution was to select the easiest and quickest replacement: natural gas. As it produces less CO2 and other pollutants than coal, it was misleadingly tagged as “clean fuel.” Faced with taking lesser evil situation, most are accepting natural gas. However, there are many concerns remain. Industry and major media emphasize the benefit and pushing for transportation use and export while downplaying and possibly covering up the long term environmental and health risk.  

Coal and natural gas, both fossil fuel, will cease to supply our energy economically probably a lot sooner than most want to believe. Best solution forward is to stop wasting the energy we are paying dearly by improving efficiency, and develop renewable resources which pose far less environmental risk and very low operational cost for long term.