Do You Know Where Energy Comes From?

Most of us take it for granted — that we can just walk into a room, flip on a switch and the lights actually come on. Or the fact that we can plug in electronics and recharge them at nearly any power outlet we find. But what’s really creating the energy? Below, we take a look at the top five sources of energy in the United States in 2013:

Chart credit: <a href="">EPA</a>

1. Coal, 39.1%

What is it: An abundant fossil fuel commonly obtained from mines, coal is transported to power plants where it’s burned to produce steam, which creates electricity. Learn how it impacts the environment

How much does the U.S. have: The EPA estimates U.S. coal reserves at 268 billion tons. Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky produce the most coal in the United States.

Learn more: EPA


2. Natural Gas, 27.4%

What is it: A fossil fuel, natural gas formed underground over thousands of years. Wells are drilled into the ground to extract natural gas, which is cleaned of various impurities at gas plants before being transported to power plants where it’s converted to electricity and then distributed to the public via pipelines. Learn how it impacts the environment

How much does the U.S. have: The United States’ natural gas reserves in 2012 were 2,203 trillion cubic feet, which is estimated to last 92 years.

Learn more: EPA


3. Nuclear, 19.4%

What is it: Nuclear energy is created when uranium atoms are split through fission, which releases energy that creates steam that generates electricity. Uranium is mined from the earth and sent to processing plants before being transported to one of about 100 nuclear reactors in the United States. Learn how it impacts the environment

How much does the U.S. have: In 2008, the EPA estimated U.S. uranium ore reserves at one billion, 227 million pounds, which was primarily in Wyoming and New Mexico. Though the United States uses more nuclear power than any other nation, other countries rely on nuclear more heavily — such as France, which supplies 80 percent of its power through nuclear.

Learn more: EPA


4. Hydro, 6.5%

What is it: The largest renewable energy source for electricity in the United States, hydropower converts kinetic energy (created by water flow through a dam) into electricity. Learn how it impacts the environment

How much does the U.S. have: The EPA estimates the U.S. can supply electricity to 28 million households via hydropower, which is most commonly utilized in the Pacific Northwest.

Learn more: EPA


5. Wind, 4.1%

What is it: Wind is a renewable resource that is growing in use in areas of the country where consistent wind exists. Through moving turbine blades that activate a generator, wind turbines collect and convert energy to electricity. Often these turbines are located in groups known as wind farms. Learn how it impacts the environment

How much does the U.S. have: The amount of wind varies according to region and weather, though North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Wisconsin, and Oregon are among the windiest.

Learn more: EPA


The Future

Each energy source has varying reliability, upfront and ongoing costs, environmental impacts, efficiency and storage capabilities. As technology improves, future energy sources may change. This interactive world map helps show how the world’s energy mix might change in the future.

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