Where Your Electricity Comes From and Why You Should Care

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Most of us are completely unaware of how the electricity we use is generated. We just put the plug in the outlet and forget about it. Unfortunately, this is one of those situations where ignorance is definitely not bliss! Understanding where your power originates is crucial in an energy efficiency standpoint.

energy and power electricity source graphic energysage

For anyone wondering where their energy comes from, the chart above displays the sources of our power usage nationwide and can offer insight about output sources. No surprise: the decisions that determine this mix are made by your utility company with their best interests in mind. Sources are chosen on the basis of factors such as cost, availability, and reliability of supply. That’s how coal came to fuel almost half of the U.S.’s electrical needs. It’s cheap, it’s plentiful and it’s relatively easy to mine. What didn’t factor into the utility’s decision were things like the environmental impact of their choices–costs not borne by them but by you, me, and the communities in which we live. Nonetheless, the recent ITC extension and Paris Agreement are two reasons pointing to an approaching overthrowal of fossil fuels by the renewable industry. 

How Solar Energy Can Improve Energy Use, Efficiency, Environmental Impact

Usually, when individuals think about their environmental impact, it’s in terms of their own energy use. For example, you might think along the lines of: “By shutting off a few more lights, I’ll reduce the amount of energy my household is responsible for consuming.” Very few people, however, consider the impact of the methods used to extract the energy they’re using or its effect on their immediate environment. When these numbers are included in the analysis, a much different picture emerges.

You can (and should!) see what these numbers look like for you. Recently, FastCompany CoExist published an interesting blog article about the Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA) tool, which tracks the greenhouse gas emissions from 60,000 power plants worldwide. They believe the tool “may be the easiest way to find out how much CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are coming from your country, state, county, city, zip code, or individual power company each year.” It’s worth checking to see how your utility stacks up. To take it a step further, using a home energy monitor like the Neurio W1-HEM Home Energy Monitor or the CURB Home Energy Monitoring System can give you more insight into your household’s day-to-day electricity use.

zip code entry solar calculator

And it’s not just toxic emissions that are affecting our environment–sometimes the processes used to extract the energy itself can be very immediately dangerous. Studies have shown that fracking, a system used to release gases in the earth for energy extraction, releases toxic chemicals into our water supply. A study in Pennsylvania covered in the New York Times vividly demonstrates the hazards of this process.

When you take into account the entire impact of your energy choices, from generation through delivery and use at your home, the environmental benefit of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal becomes clear. Then, when you factor in the economic benefit of adopting these clean solar technologies, the choice becomes obvious. You can use our Solar Calculator to find out what your 20-year solar savings would look like.

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