Graph Of The Day: Watch US Electricity Grid Evolve Before Your Eyes

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Originally published on RenewEconomy
by Sophie Vorrath

We talk a lot about the changing shape of the electricity grid, but what does it look like?

We first came across this rather hypnotic GIF via the Union of Concerned Scientists blog, The Equation, who borrowed it from Pat Knight at Synapse Energy Economics.

It shows, in animated graph form, how the electricity mix has changed in each state of America over the past 15 years. And as UCS senior energy analyst John Rogers notes, the only constant in the “mesmerising” GIF is change.


The really interesting changes come from about 2009 onwards. But Rogers sees five trends in the graph’s “undulating bars” and outlines what’s behind them:

  1. Coal waning – The most visible change in recent years, says Rogers, is shown in the shrinkage of the dark section on the left of the GIF. “Coal provided fully half of (the US’s) electricity as recently as 2006. Now it’s down to below 40 percent, as the eroding economics of coal have asserted themselves,” he writes.
  2. Natural gas growing – For the US, a big part of the decline of coal (and the rise of concerns about natural gas overreliance).
  3. Renewables surging – Another reason King Coal is falling, says Rogers: “the result of smart policies in a lot of forward-thinking states, and great cost reductions. Synapse’s Knight offers this great statistic: ‘In 2014, 11 states produced 10 percent or more generation from renewables (compared to zero states in 2005)’.”
  4. Renewables surging (wind) – Wind, the technology to beat in many US locations, now accounts for more than 10 per cent of generation in nine states, says Rogers, and more than 25 percent in two (Iowa and South Dakota).
  5. Renewables surging (solar) – At the end of the GIF’s journey, solar starts to make its presence felt, says Rogers – and it’s only just beginning to claim its share of the spotlight, with rapidly increasing scale and rapidly dropping costs. See Hawaii.

And Rogers concludes thus:

“The changes visible in these undulations – the cleaner generation portfolios they show are possible – have strong implications for public health and climate change, for our communities, and even for our transportation sector.

All that leaves me wanting to see what’s next, to see what the 2015 data will show, and the 2016 after that… to see where the renewables upwelling will take us next.”


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22 thoughts on “Graph Of The Day: Watch US Electricity Grid Evolve Before Your Eyes

  • Green for nuclear? No. How about glowing hazard yellow and save green for renewables?
    Renewables should be green.
    Blue for water is good.
    Natural gas should be white.
    Black for coal is good.
    Oil and others that burn are good at fire red.

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    • Nulcear power is green. It’s even greener than solar solar and wind

      • If you say so it must be true.

        • No, it’s the other way around. I say it because it’s true

          • No, actually nuclear is not only dangerous but continues to pollute the planet for like… ever. Fortunately new nuclear is so expensive it is not going anywhere. A few hard core enthusiasts continue to push it and some actually get put into production. Way behind schedule and far beyond budget. Since it’s happening so slowly solar, wind, and battery will have made nuclear unnecessary. Maybe nuclear will be a viable alternative when we start colonizing other planets but that’s a long ways ahead. Good luck with your nuclear ambitions.

          • You’re obviously have no idea about nuclear energy and nuclear reactions. 😉

            The higher danger of the radioactive elements the shorter half life they have. Elements with half life of thousands of years are harmless.
            Solar panels, as well as wind turbines have much shorter life span, that need to to changed and that’s waste in materials and energy. They have ( and will always have) much lower power density and require more area. That means you need to take more space from vegetation and wild life They have much lower EROEI. that means they will be less profitable energy wise.
            But go on in your fear mongering. What does ” hardcore enthusiasts” know 😉

          • You can hide in the details if you like. Lets look at energy as a black box instead of the details inside of the box. If you only have to pay $.04/kWh for one black box and you have to pay $.20/kWh for the other which would you take? Those are the prices of renewable versus nuclear and the reason nuclear is dead.

          • And how much of your “renewable cost” is from subsidies?
            I have other numbers: ( in euros)
            Hydro power 20
            Nuclear 50
            Natural gas turbines without CO2 capture 61
            Onshore wind 69
            Solar farms 293

          • If you look at average costs here in the USA you’ll see numerous references to average cost being $0.04/kWh for wind with a $0.0175/kWh subsidy. And you’ll see solar coming in as cheap as $0.05/kWh.

          • and these are projections of future prices for US : https://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source#/media/File:Projected_LCOE_in_the_U.S._by_2020_(as_of_2015).png

          • so igor, how come small functioning nuclear plants are being closed in the U.S.? Because they are uneconomic.

            Solar panels have “much shorter lifespan”? What, 25 years with no maintenance besides replacing the inverters and dusting isn’t good enough? And 25 years is the typical lifespan of wind turbines as well. Sure, the power density is much lower, but that DOESN’T mean solar has to take more space from vegetation and wildlife – the U.S. could get our solar electricity from urban and rooftop. It’s the utilities who love the huge solar farms, which are admittedly cheaper.

          • I always find the emphasis on the long half-lives of some nuclear waste disingenuous. If it lasts for a billion years, then it isn’t very radioactive. Arsenic and mercury (from coal), on the other hand, aren’t radioactive, so their half-lives are infinite. By and large, nuclear power has the best safety record, except for Chernobyl (not built to Western standards) and Fukushima. Of course, it isn’t cost-effective, but it isn’t terrible. If we just charged appropriate air-dumping fees for emissions of SOx, NOx, Hg, As, and radionuclides (such as radon, C14, K40, …), nuclear power would displace coal, if it weren’t for renewables.
            But don’t forget that people get killed installing renewables.

          • People get killed in life.

            Fortunately economics usually ends up playing a major role in the end. Often not quickly enough in my opinion.

          • Nine Mile Point radioactive waste in the basement. Google it. Then there’s Three Mile Island of course. The tritium spills at nearly every plant. Arkansas Nuclear One has an appalling safety record. And so on…

            US nuclear safety standards are terrible, though the civliian industry is better than most of the military was. (The Navy does OK, the Army and Air Force are awful.)

            Hanford and Savannah River and Rocky Flats are terrible messes which we will probably never figure out how to clean up. In the UK, they’re still trying to figure out how to clean up Windscale.

            This does not happen with solar or wind power. Nuclear power has a *terrible* safety record, unless you cherrypick.

          • “In fact, the fly ash emitted by a power plant—a by-product from burning coal for electricity—carries into the surrounding environment 100 times more radiation than a nuclear power plant producing the same amount of energy.”

            Note that the cited article is comparing environmental emissions from stored nuclear waste to environmental emissions from emitted fly ash waste, but that is the correct comparison.
            Solar and wind have a minor construction and O&M danger problem. No big deal, I think
            Coal plants have an insignificant nuclear waste problem. Really no big deal. They also emit poison from their stacks. That is a big deal. Fly ash is dangerous. Coal mining is dangerous.
            Tritium is quite radioactive; it has a half-life of around 12 years. This means that any tritium pollution will clean itself up; in 123 years, less than .1% of the tritium is left. Mercury from coal plants doesn’t do that. According to
            Electricity generation and health
            Markandya, Anil et al.
            The Lancet , Volume 370 , Issue 9591 , 979 – 990, , in Europe coal is responsible for .12 deaths from accidents, 25 deaths from pollution and 225 cases of serious illness per terawatt (1,000 billion kilowatt) hour of electricity generated. In comparison, nuclear causes .02 accidental deaths, .05 pollution deaths and .22 cases of illness.
            I don’t have numbers on how much solar and wind manufacturing pollute, but it is insignificant compared to coal.
            Nuclear is a moribund. Why sweat it? Okay, I live near a nuke plant, and I sure wish I knew they had a Chernobyl option, the ability to run their cooling system off the waste heat if they shut down the pile. Because of 9/11 security theater, they get away with not sharing their emergency plans. That is unfortunate, but minor compared to the coal plants that produce major emissions every day. If we figure out how to clean up after coal, the techniques may be applicable to cleaning up after old nuke stuff too. But first, let’s stop adding to the problem.

          • Green, as in glowing? I think pale blue for Cherenkov radiation.

            There’s way too many chemical poisons involved in nukes — plutonium is highly poisonous to start with — and that’s before we talk about radiological hazards.

  • And the placement of items on the graph don’t make much sense either. Coal is getting squeezed out and will be eventually be replaced with renewables. So coal should be on the right and renewables on the left. Then the other energy sources put between the two ranked by how much damage they do. The better ones being closer to renewable energy and the bad ones being next to coal. Probably natural gas being in the center as the bridge between the future and the old coal, nuclear, oil and other stuff from the past.

    • I think the graph is ok, actually pretty cool ! But you have to watch the cycle 10-20 times before it makes sense 😉

      • Yes, I probably watched it closer to 100x before I realized the layout was what was keeping me from grasping the content.

  • West Virginia – the last bastion of coal.

  • Would have been better to present the order in this way
    Coal, Oil & Other, Natural Gas, Nuclear, Hydro and Renewables.

    And color Coal Black, Oil & Other Gray, Natural Gas Orange, Nuclear Red, Hydro Blue and Renewables Green

Comments are closed.