Resources for Sustainability: Mapping U.S. Electricity Generation

Resources for Sustainability: Mapping U.S. Electricity Generation

With the presence of fossil fuels and rise of renewable sources, mapping the diversity of electricity-generating components suggests potential for future developments and changes.

Over the past centuries, fossil fuels established and still maintain a large share of electricity generation. As communities, states, and countries evolve their portfolio of renewable resources, mapping how different areas source their energy supply becomes a valuable tool in gauging how quickly transitions to more sustainable infrastructures may happen, as well as how.

A useful guiding principle to making this transition is to maintain a healthy Triple Bottom Line—the wellbeing of people, prosperity of businesses, and a healthy environment all need to be considered and incorporated. The energy transition to become more sustainable will therefore require a balancing act, with renewable resources being on the rise and ultimately having the potential to most directly achieve this balance.

This entry in Team Gemini’s ongoing “Resources for Sustainability” series will complement several maps found among the tools from our Resources compilation. This map focuses on data gathered for the year 2015, and graphically illustrates the sources of electricity generation in the U.S.

The following table summarizes the top sources of electricity generation in the U.S. for 2015. Feel free to explore more on our Resources page, or contact us if you’d like to recommend others.

Power Source % of Total # of Plants Notes
Coal 34% 511 The leading fuel for electricity generation in the country, coal is most popular in the Midwest, Appalachia and the East Coast, but is also the primary source in Wyoming, Utah, Montana and Arizona. It generated the vast majority of the nation’s electricity in the late 1980s but now creates one-third with natural gas gaining steadily. Coal is the chief source of electricity in 22 states and creates a majority of the electrical power in 14 states.
Natural Gas 30% 1740 Advances and expansion of fracking in the past decade have unlocked vast supplies of natural gas from shale deposits all over the country. Natural gas is the predominant source of power in 15 states including all of the Gulf of Mexico states, Virginia, Georgia, New York, Massachusetts, Nevada and California.
Nuclear 20% 63 Five new nuclear plants are under construction following decades of pause after the initial push in the 1970s and 1980s driven by the first oil shock. Only South Carolina, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and New Hampshire get a plurality of their power from nuclear. Twenty states have no nuclear electricity generation at all.
Hydro 7% 1436 Washington, Oregon and Idaho lead the nation in power from hydroelectric plants. It’s a feast-or-famine source, providing 48 percent or more of the power in five states, but less than 10 percent of the electricity in 40 states. Government-run plants generate most of the power.
Wind 5% 843 Wind is the fastest growing source, finding a home in the Great Plains where wind blows reliably across wide open spaces. Iowa and South Dakota get one third of their power from wind, followed by Kansas, Vermont and North Dakota.
Solar 1% 772 Sun power is predominantly in the Southwest where the sun shines the most. Thirty-nine states have no solar generating plants. California gets 8 percent of its electricity from solar and Nevada gets 5 percent, followed by Vermont and Arizona with 4 percent each.
Oil 1% 1098 Petroleum is no longer a popular source for electricity generation. After the rise of OPEC and the oil shocks and price increases of the 1970s, utilities switched to other fuels, mostly coal. Hawaii is the only state that gets a plurality of its electricity from oil.

For a full listing of Team Gemini sustainability tools and resources, please visit our resources page at