Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ranking America's Generation Technologies By Capacity & Production: Coal & Nuclear Plants Standout

America has much more gas-fired generation capacity than anything else, but coal plants rank first in production The difference between capacity and production is a key fact mentioned by some commenters to this blog, so here is a quick review of America's electricity capacity and production.

According to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, America has 1,153,910 megawatts.
www.ferc.gov/legal/staff-reports/aug-2012-energy-infrastructure.pdf.  And that huge total comprises 10 different types of generation.

Measured by capacity, America has more gas-fired generation--482,800 megawatts--than any other type.  Coal ranks second at 340,780 megawatts; nuclear third at 106,770 megawatts; hydro fourth at 98,060 megawatts; oil fifth at 51,700 megawatts; wind fifth at 50,770 megawatts; biomass sixth at 14,390 megawatts; geothermal seventh at 3,610 megawatts; and solar ninth at 3,200 megawatts.  The FERC solar number does not include a substantial amount of solar distributed generation.

Capacity numbers are important, but they are not the same as production.  Indeed, there can be real differences between a technology's percentage of the nation's capacity and the percentage of electricity that it produces.

For example, though America has more gas-fired generation capacity than any other type and 41.84% of our total capacity, gas currently generates about 30% of our electricity and ranks second in actual power production.

Despite having 29.53% of America's capacity and ranking second, coal generates still the most electricity of any source, about 36%, though it has lost substantial market share to gas.

Nuclear power has just 9.25% of our capacity but generates a bit less than 20% of our electricity. Every 1% of nuclear capacity produces 2% of America's power.  The nuclear plants of the nation are real work horses.

Hydro is 8.5% of our capacity and produces about 7% to 8% of our electricity.  Wind is now 4.4% of our capacity and is producing a bit less than 4% of the nation's power.  Biomass is about 1.25% of our capacity and generates a similar amount of our electricity.

Oil is still 4.48% of our capacity but now generates 1% or less of our electricity.

As this review shows, nuclear and coal plants produce a greater share of the nation's electricity than their portion of the nation's capacity total.  Despite low gas prices, gas still produces considerably less than its share of the nation's capacity, as do oil plants.  Renewables tend to produce a percentage of power close to their percentage of the capacity total.

Reviewing America's electricity capacity and supply confirms the size and diversity of the nation's electricity generation.  Those are real strengths for America!

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