The talented infographic artists at Visual Capitalist took data from the US Energy Information Administration and put it into the image at the bottom of this post. The highlights:
- Early settlers burned stuff they found on the ground — mostly wood and brush — to create fires and heat that would cook food, warm homes and eventually, run steam engines. It was pretty simple for most people, except for a few rich people who used a little coal to heat their homes.
- Of course, the 18th and 19th centuries had other energy sources: water power for mills located on streams, wind power for ships at sea and wind mills on land, and various forms of animal fats for lighting, from tallow and beeswax for candles to whale oil for lamps. Perhaps these produced too little energy to appear on the chart?
- The transition from wood to fossil fuels began when trains, originally run on steam engines powered by wood, switched to coal, which helped them go faster and farther with less bulky fuel.
- In the late nineteenth century, the invention of the internal combustion engine to run cars and other vehicles would create a huge demand for fuels from oil like gasoline and diesel fuel. Meanwhile, innovators including Edison, Tesla and Westinghouse were making it practical to burn coal to create steam that would turn turbines that would generate electricity.
- In the 1950s, the first nuclear power came along, first to run submarines and then to supply power on land. While nuclear provides about 20% of electric power today, both nuclear and coal have been largely eclipsed by natural gas to make electricity.
- The first renewable source of electricity was water power, and the first large hydroelectric stations, like the one at Hoover Dam, opened in the 1930s. Since then, wind and solar have added to the renewable power mix, but clean energy still provides less than 20% of America’s electric power. That means there’s plenty of room for growth for solar!
Today, most of America’s energy still comes from fossil fuels. But solar and wind have been growing quickly over the last few years. It took more than a century for fossil fuels to mostly replace wood as a source of America’s energy. Yet, some experts are calling for the US to use 100% clean energy by the middle of the century. Given how quickly solar has grown recently, we could actually achieve that ambitious goal — but only with the help of solar patriots across the country.
— Erik Curren, The Solar Patriot