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Animated: 70 Years of U.S. Electricity Generation by Source

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The following content is sponsored by the National Public Utilities Council

Animated: 70 Years of U.S. Electricity Generation by Source

Electricity generation in the U.S. has grown exponentially since 1950, going from 2.96 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 1949 to 4.11 trillion kWh in 2021.

With the growth in electricity generation, the U.S. electricity mix has also evolved, especially as clean electricity sources such as nuclear, wind, and solar power grew in use.

In the animated chart by the National Public Utilities Council above, we explore the past 70 years of U.S. electricity generation, following along with the country’s dynamic electricity mix over the decades.

Trends in U.S. Power Generation Since 1950

The U.S. generated 1,200% more electricity in 2021 compared to 1950.

Here’s how the share of each source in the electricity mix changed over that period.

YearCoalNatural
Gas
SolarWindHydroNuclearOther
195046%13%0%0%30%0%10%
202122%38%3%9%6%19%3%

While coal and hydropower led as the largest sources of electricity in the 1950s, the growth in U.S. electricity demand is met primarily by natural gas today, followed by coal, nuclear, and wind power.

Despite coal’s heavy share in the U.S. electricity mix since 1949, its use has declined in recent years, peaking in 2007 in terms of total electricity generated.

With the low cost of natural gas and the advancement of decarbonization efforts, 80+ coal plants have retired or are set to retire in the next three decades in the United States. Despite this, coal remains the largest contributor to power sector emissions, accounting for 58% in 2021.

Besides the rise and fall of coal use, the animation highlights other interesting trends in the country’s power generation over the last 70 years, including:

  • Nuclear energy slowly starts contributing to the electricity mix in 1957 as the Shippingport Atomic Power Station comes on in Pennsylvania. By 2020, nuclear power accounts for nearly 20% of total electricity generation.
  • Solar and wind power start contributing to the mix in 1983-84, with wind accelerating faster than solar power to account for 1% of total electricity generated by 2008 and 9% by 2021.
  • Electricity sourced from natural gas surpasses that from coal in 2016 and continues to absorb most of the decline in coal use through the present day.
  • Hydropower’s share in the electricity mix remains stable since 2000, making up 5 to 6% of total electricity generated each year.

The Road to Net-zero

While the decline in coal use for electricity aids in lowering emissions, the U.S. power sector has a long way to go in decarbonizing. In 2021, the use of fossil fuels for power generation contributed 1,537 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in the country.

Therefore, accelerating the deployment of carbon-free energy sources is critical for the road to a decarbonized power sector.

The chart below shows how U.S. electricity generation needs to change to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

In the net-zero scenario, Energy Innovation’s policy simulator counts on a complete phase-out of coal-fired electricity by 2034, along with a 36-fold increase in solar power generation and a 10-fold increase in wind power generation by 2050 (compared to 2020 levels.)

The rapid transition from fossil fuels to clean-energy sources, coupled with adequate transmission expansion and investment in battery storage, is integral for a carbon-free power sector. With prompt action, the next 30 years of U.S. electricity generation has the power to look a lot like the projected graph above, giving way to lower emissions for all other sectors that use electricity.

Click here to learn more about how electric utilities and the power sector can lead on the path toward decarbonization.

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Energy Shift

Visualized: The Evolution of Energy Employment (2022–2030P)

This graphic shows the projected evolution of global energy employment between 2022 and 2030 using data by the International Energy Agency.

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the preview image for a waterfall chart showing the projected evolution of global energy employment between 2022 and 2030.

The Evolution of Energy Employment (2022–2030P)

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), just over half of the 67 million people employed in the global energy industry in 2022 worked in the clean energy sector: 35 million vs. 32 million in fossil fuels. And with the clean energy transition picking up pace, that gap is set to widen. 

In this graphic created in partnership with the National Public Utilities Council, we explore how global energy employment could change by 2030 in a current policy scenario, using projections from the IEA.

The Rise in Clean Energy Employment

The IEA’s current policy scenario is a conservative projection for progress in line with the present trajectory of our energy system. It doesn’t assume that nations will reach their announced goals or that net zero will be achieved by 2050. 

Even within this conservative scenario, the global energy sector is projected to have a net gain of 5.7 million jobs by 2030. Except for the 300,000 jobs added in the oil and gas supply industry, these jobs are all in clean energy.

In a more ambitious scenario, aligned with achieving net zero by 2050, the net gain in jobs is projected to nearly triple to 17 million.

Changes in global energy employment 2022–2030P, millions of jobsCurrent policies scenarioNet-zero emissions 2050 scenario
Coal supply-1.4-2.8
Internal combustion engine vehicles-1.1-6.2
Unabated fossil fuel electricity-0.2-1.2
Critical minerals+0.2+0.7
Oil and gas supply+0.3-2.5
Low-emissions fuels+0.4+3.2
End-use efficiency+1.2+3.2
Energy grids and storage+1.4+3.8
Low-emission electricity+1.7+11
Electric vehicles and batteries+3.2+7.7
Net job creation+5.7+16.9

In both scenarios, the global energy industry is poised to create millions of new jobs in the coming years, with the job gains in the clean energy sector significantly outweighing the job losses in the fossil fuel industry.

A People-Centred Transition

With projected growth of this magnitude, the IEA emphasizes that policymakers and industry must support employee transitions from fossil fuels and address skill gaps in emerging industries through education and training.

According to the World Energy Employment report, continued efforts in these areas are crucial to prevent labor shortages and avoid delays in the clean energy transition.

Learn how the National Public Utilities Council is working toward the future of sustainable electricity.

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Energy Shift

2024 U.S. Clean Electricity Outlook

In this graphic, we explore the projected generation capacity of different clean electricity technologies in the U.S. for 2023 and 2024.

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preview image for a bar chart visualizing the projected electricity generation capacity for clean electricity technologies in the United States for 2023 and 2024.

2024 U.S. Clean Electricity Outlook

As the world urgently seeks sustainable energy solutions, the U.S. has the opportunity to lead the charge in the shift toward clean electricity.

But what kind of progress can the country expect in the upcoming year? 

To find out, we partnered with the National Public Utilities Council to visualize the projected 2024 electricity generation capacity of clean energy technologies in the U.S., using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). 

The Rise of Battery Storage and Solar Power

Looking ahead to 2024, U.S. generation capacity projections unveil a promising trajectory for battery storage and solar power. Battery storage is projected to grow by 82% compared to 2023 estimates, while solar is projected to grow by 40%.

Wind power is also growing, albeit at a slower rate (5%) due to higher costs and permitting challenges, especially for offshore projects. 

Electricity Generation Capacity Projections20232024Change
Battery Storage17 GW31 GW+82%
Solar93 GW130 GW+40%
Wind149 GW156 GW+5%
Nuclear96 GW97 GW+1%
Geothermal3 GW3 GW0%
Hydro80 GW80 GW0%

As illustrated in the table above, the EIA projects a modest year for the rest of the major clean electricity sources in the nation, with nuclear expected to eke out a lackluster 1% growth, while hydro and geothermal remain unchanged. 

Overall, these projections underscore a diversification of the U.S. energy portfolio, with a pronounced emphasis on renewables and energy storage. The growth in battery storage capacity, specifically, underscores efforts to overcome the intermittency challenges of renewables, ultimately ensuring a reliable and emission-free power supply in the country.

The Broader U.S. Power Sector in 2024

Beyond capacity projections, let’s also take a look at some projected trends related to the broader U.S. power sector in 2024. 

  • U.S. daily electricity generation is projected to grow by 3% between 2023 and 2024, reflecting an increasing demand for power in the country. 
  • Renewables are set to claim an even larger slice of the U.S. electricity mix in 2024, rising from 22% in 2023 to 24%
  • Electricity production from coal is projected to decline by 9% as the country continues its move away from this emission-intensive energy source. 
  • Despite the country’s projected growth in clean electricity capacity, total U.S. energy-related emissions are projected to drop by 0.1% in 2024. 

All in all, the 2024 landscape of the U.S. power sector signifies progress with increased renewables and heightened electricity generation. However, the marginal dip in emissions emphasizes the need to ramp-up country-wide efforts to meet the goal of a net-zero future.

Learn how the National Public Utilities Council is working toward the future of sustainable electricity.

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