Clean energy includes renewable energy, energy efficiency and efficient combined heat and power. The sector is undergoing a transformation across the country as evidenced by the on-going expansion of the renewable energy industry.
The clean energy sector, which generates hundreds of billions in economic activity, includes electricity, most of which is generated using fossil fuels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), approximately 65% of total electricity generation in 2018 was produced from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum), materials that come from plants (biomass), and municipal and industrial wastes.
Although electricity, when used, is a clean and relatively safe form of energy, the generation and transmission of electricity affects the environment. As of the end of 2018, there were about 9,719 power plants in the United States nearly all of which negatively impact the environment.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all power plants have a physical footprint (the location of the power plant). Some power plants are located inside, on, or next to an existing building, so the footprint is relatively small. Most large power plants require land clearing to build the power plant. Some power plants may also require access roads, railroads, and pipelines for fuel delivery, electricity transmission lines, and cooling water supplies. Power plants that burn solid fuels may have areas to store the combustion ash.
According to the EIA, the electric power sector is a large source of CO2 emissions in the United States. Power plants that burned fossil fuels or materials made from fossil fuels, and some geothermal power plants, were the source of about 33% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2018. Today, a small but growing percentage of electricity is generated using renewable resources such as solar and wind.
The United States has laws that govern the effects that electricity generation and transmission have on the environment. The Clean Air Act regulates air pollutant emissions from most power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers the Clean Air Act and sets emissions standards for power plants through various programs such as the Acid Rain Program. The Clean Air Act has helped to substantially reduce emissions of some major air pollutants in the United States.
Moving forward, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), will continue to drive strategic investments in the transition to a cleaner, domestic and more secure energy future. Responsible development of all of America’s rich energy resources, including solar, wind water, geothermal, bioenergy and nuclear, will help ensure America’s continued leadership in clean energy.