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About Electricity

The ubiquitous energy that powers the world is created through the conversion of other energy resources.

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U.S. Resources
U.S. Demand
World Resources
World Demand
Electricity is the flow of electrons (negatively charged particles) through a conductor. While electricity exists in nature, it is the electric power that is generated by human effort that makes our modern life possible. In the future, the majority of the world's electricity may be produced by solar cells or nuclear fusion. Until then (and then could be a long time in coming), America and the rest of the world will get its electricity primarily through the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), nuclear fission, and from renewable resources (hydro, geothermal, wind, biomass, and solar).
U.S. Resources
The electric power system in the United States is the largest in the world. In fact, with over 800,000 MWe of installed capacity, America has more than twice the generating capacity of China, our nearest competitor. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the electricity generated in America in 2002 came from the following sources:
Coal 50%
Nuclear 20%
Natural Gas 18%
Hydro 07%
Other 05%

The precise "mix" of resources utilized in the generation of electricity changes from year-to-year, depending upon public policies and market factors. For example, as a result of stricter air pollution regulations, most new electrical generating capacity installed in the United States in recent years have been designed to use natural gas, a clean-burning fuel. An unanticipated consequence of the switch to natural gas has been to substantially increase demand for that fuel. Thus, the price of natural gas has reached a level where other clean sources of electricity -- such as coal gasification and renewables -- are receiving heightened interest by utility decision-makers and government officials.

U.S. Demand

Electricity is consumed in great quantity by every sector of the American economy -- industrial, commercial, and residential. Statistics about electricity consumption compiled in 2002 by the EIA showed the following breakdown:

  Residential 36%
  Commercial 32%
Industrial 29%
  Other 03%

The EIA predicts that total electricity demand will grow by 1.8% to 1.9% percent per year through 2025. To keep pace with this demand and to replace aging facilities, the United States must add nearly 400,000 MWe of new capacity over the next 20 years.

World Resources

The precise mixture of energy sources used to generate electricity around the world changes over time. The EIA makes the following interesting observations and predictions:

Coal is projected to continue to retain the largest market share of electricity generation, but its importance is expected to be diminished somewhat by the rise in natural gas use. In 2025, coal is expected to account for 31 percent of the world’s electricity fuel market, slightly lower than its 34 percent share in 2001.
  Continued increases in the use of natural gas for electricity generation are expected worldwide. ( Examples )
  Renewable energy, predominantly hydropower, accounted for one-fifth of the world’s energy use for electricity generation in 2001, where it is expected to remain through 2025.
The nuclear share of energy use for electricity production is expected to decline in most regions of the world as a result of public opposition, waste disposal issues, concerns about nuclear arms proliferation, and the economics of nuclear power. The nuclear share of electricity generation worldwide is projected to drop to 12 percent in 2025 from 19 percent in 2001.
  The role of oil in the world’s electricity generation market has been on the decline since the 1979 oil price shock. Oil accounted for 23 percent of electricity fuel use in 1977; in 2001 its share stood at 7 percent.  The oil share of world energy use for electricity production is projected to remain stable at between 6 and 7 percent through 2025.

World Demand

Worldwide net electricity consumption in 2001 was estimated to be 13.9 trillion kilowatt-hours. If global electricity demand grows at the average annual rate of 2.4 percent predicted by the EIA, 24.7 trillion kilowatt-hours would be consumed in 2025. However, the global average rate will be exceeded in countries with rapidly expanding economies.

China's electricity consumption, for example, is projected to nearly triple over the next two decades, growing by an average of 4.3 percent per year.

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  © 2004-2009 Fred H. Hutchison

Edited on: March 27, 2009