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U.S. installed capacity and electricity generation by energy resource, 1949 to 2009

The U.S. electricity sector has seen tremendous growth in the past 60 years. From 1949 to 2009, U.S. electricity consumption increased by a factor of 13. To meet this rising demand, the U.S has built vast amounts of new electricity generating infrastructure. The total U.S. installed capacity in 2009 was 998 GW, compared with just 65 GW in 1949.


U.S. industry energy-saving potential, 2010–2050

Increased adoption of energy efficient technologies as well as cogeneration and waste heat recovery systems will reduce energy use by an additional 4.7 quadrillion BTUs from business-as-usual. These and other changes (energy changes due fuel switching or transformation in other sectors) can reduce projected primary energy use by 27% in 2050.


Building sector energy use, 2009

Electricity is 75% of primary energy consumed by U.S. buildings, but 68% of that electricity is lost in conversion and delivery. Oil and natural gas are almost 10 quads of energy, or 25% of total primary energy.


Estimated health effects from U.S. coal-fired power plant emissions

Fossil fuel combustion harms air quality and human health. A 2010 study by the Clean Air Task Force estimated that air pollution from coal-fired power plants accounts for more than 13,000 premature deaths, 20,000 heart attacks, and 1.6 million lost workdays in the U.S. each year. The total monetary cost of these health impacts is over $100 billion annually.


U.S. natural gas consumption

In Reinventing Fire, natural gas consumption in 2050 is reduced by 36% relative to business-as-usual. This reduction is primarily enabled by improved efficiency in commercial and residential buildings and less reliance on natural gas in the electricity sector.


Estimated water withdrawals in the U.S., 1950–2005

In 2005, half of U.S. water withdrawals were made by the electricity sector. A “business-as-usual” U.S. electricity future will increase reliance on large thermal power plants and keep water demands high.


Electricity scenarios

In Reinventing Fire, Rocky Mountain Institute investigates the implications of four radically different future electricity scenarios - from a “business-as-usual” case to a network of intelligent microgrids powered largely by distributed renewables.


Where does the money go

Despite large aggregate expenditures on buildings, average U.S. consumers spend only ~4% of their total budget on fuel and electricity bills. Consumers have little incentive to reduce their energy bills, despite a variety of ways to do so profitably.


Historic and projected U.S. electricity demand, 1950-2050

While U.S. demand for electricity has risen in all but four years since 1949, the rate of increase has been steadily trending down. The Energy Information Administration predicts an annual growth rate around +1% to 2030 (which RMI extrapolates to 2050). Successfully implementing the energy efficiency improvements in buildings and industry discussed in Reinventing Fire could reduce this to a steady –1%.


Historic and projected CO2 emissions from the U.S. electric sector, 1990–2050

Rocky Mountain Institute’s four scenarios for the future U.S. electricity system ( detailed here ) all have markedly different projected CO2 emissions over the next 40 years.


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