Even if you don’t work in the energy sector, you need not look far to find evidence the United States is experiencing an energy renaissance, a boom in production unlike any other in our nation’s history. Those of a certain age likely remember the 1973 oil crisis in which an embargo from OPEC led to a quadrupling of oil prices and mile-long lines outside gas stations.
While we’ve certainly made vast progress in energy production, that progress has been largely uneven across the country mostly due to two reasons:
1) The United States is geographically large: Our nation’s energy resources and infrastructure are spread out, which creates challenges related to transportation of sources and derived products.
2) The United States shares power among the states: The U.S. has a decentralized government with strong emphasis on state’s rights, and so there can be enormous variations in energy policies from state to state.
These intricacies have led to a fractured energy market; one that, despite its growing importance, is complex and therefore can be difficult to understand. It is this combination of increased production, political complexity and geographic variance that triggered the idea for The United States of Energy, a visualization tool that allows users to quickly grasp the resources, infrastructure and market across every state and region as well as certain policies that impact energy.
How did we do it? We started by assessing impartial data sources — the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the Pew Research Center and the U.S. Geological Survey, among others — and overlaid their data to create a rich collection of facts and statistics.
But simply publishing a list of statistics would leave out valuable context. We applied the “so what?” test – for each statistic, we asked ourselves whether it provided any meaningful contribution to our understanding of the U.S. energy market. It was through this process that we devised four metrics that we used to measure a state’s energy influence:
1) Resources: This is a measure of production and consumption — so how much total energy did a state produce and how much did it consume? This way, a reader could quickly discern whether the state is a net energy exporter or importer.
2) Market: This really came down to pricing; we looked at both gasoline and electricity prices to determine how expensive it is to consume energy in a given state.
3) Infrastructure: Here, we wanted to answer a simple question: How much capacity does the state have for energy production? Because the state can have all the robust natural resources in the world, but without the pipelines, refineries or power generation plants to turn them into useable products, they’re worthless.
4) Policy: This was harder to quantify and was the most subjective of the categories, but an energy map wouldn’t be complete without recognizing the impact that state laws and regulations have on energy production. Whether it’s a gasoline tax, a fracking ban, or an ethanol requirement, each policy has a massive impact on both the production and consumption of energy in that state.
So what can we learn from this visualization tool? Each user will have his or her takeaways, but a few come to mind:
1) Oil and gas are still king. The energy resources of the United States are vast and varied, but renewables comprise fewer than 10 percent of energy production, and the remaining 90 percent are fossil fuels. Gas is leading the pack by a long shot.
2) We’re still an energy importer. We’ve come a long way toward energy independence, and currently we’re producing just more than 90 percent of the energy we consume, so we still have a gap to close.
3) We’re only beginning to tap into our full energy potential. People in the 1970s were told by experts that the earth had reached peak oil production, and we wouldn’t be able to produce new energy sources at the rate we were consuming them. Now, it seems clear we have fossil fuel energy to support not only our children, but also our children’s children.
4) Policy matters. Most of us spend little time thinking about how state energy laws affect us, but it turns out they have a huge impact. For example, many people think of Texas mostly as an oil state, but, as you’ll see when viewing the map, it’s also one of the leading producers of both wind and solar energy. That’s because the state has enacted a number of policies that make it attractive to energy companies of all kinds.
Check it out for yourself at USofEnergy.com and let us know what you think.