America – and much of the world -- is becoming increasingly electrified.    Today, more than half of the electricity generated in the United States comes from coal.  For the foreseeable future, coal will continue to be the dominant fuel used for electric power production.  The low cost and abundance of coal is one of the primary reasons why consumers in the United States benefit from some of the lowest electricity rates of any free-market economy

The Department’s Office of Fossil Energy is working on ways to keep coal in America’s electricity future.   The key challenge is to remove the environmental objections to the use of coal in tomorrow’s power plants.   New technologies being developed in the Fossil Energy program could virtually eliminate the sulfur, nitrogen, and mercury pollutants released when coal is burned.  It may also be possible to capture greenhouse gases emitted from coal-fired power plants and prevent them from contributing to global warming concerns.

Research is also underway to increase the fuel efficiency of coal-fueled power plants.   Today’s plants convert only a third of coal’s energy potential to electricity.   New technologies in Energy’s Fossil Energy program could nearly double efficiency levels in the next 10-15 years.   Higher efficiencies mean even more affordable electricity and fewer greenhouse gases.

While coal is the nation’s major fuel for electric power, natural gas is the fastest growing fuel.   More than 90 percent of the power plants to be built in the next 20 years will likely be fueled by natural gas.  Natural gas is also likely to be a primary fuel for distributed power generators – mini-power plants that would be sited close to where the electricity is needed. 

Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy sponsors R&D programs aimed at maintaining the operating capability of the nation’s existing nuclear power plants and developing the next generation of nuclear technologies. Nuclear energy is our nation's largest source of emission-free electricity. The 103 U.S. nuclear units supply about 20 percent of the electricity produced in the United States – second only to coal as a fuel source.   The Nuclear Energy program is working to develop cost-efficient technologies that further enhance nuclear safety, minimize the generation of nuclear waste, and further reduce the risk of proliferation.

The United States’ electricity infrastructure is one of the greatest engineering marvels of the 20th century. However, to meet the rising electric power demand of the 21st century, significant improvements in America’s electric system are necessary. Blackouts serve as a powerful reminder of the critical role electricity plays in the everyday lives of people. The mission of the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability is to lead national effort to modernize the electric grid, enhance security and reliability of the energy infrastructure, and facilitate recovery from disruptions to the energy supply.

In addition, the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability seek to develop new technologies for the storage of energy and the transmission of energy that will contribute to energy efficiency of the electric industry. For instance, the copper wires used in typical transmission lines lose a percentage of the electricity passing through them because of resistance, which causes the wires to heat up. But "superconducting" materials have no resistance, and if they are used to transmit electricity in the future, very little of the electricity will be lost.

Fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas -- currently provide more than 85% of all the energy consumed in the United States, nearly two-thirds of our electricity, and virtually all of our transportation fuels.   Moreover, it is likely that the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels to power an expanding economy will actually increase over at least the next two decades even with aggressive development and deployment of new renewable and nuclear technologies.

Because our economic health depends on the continued availability of reliable and affordable fossil fuels, the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy oversees two major fossil fuel efforts:

1) Emergency stockpiles of crude oil and heating oil

The Department is responsible for maintaining the readiness of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve.   In the event of a major supply interruption, the President could order emergency stocks from either of these two reserves to be released into the market.

2) Research and Development of future fossil energy technologies

Innovative technologies can make the future production and use of fossil fuels more efficient and environmentally cleaner.   Energy’s Fossil Energy program, through the National Energy Technology Laboratory, is developing a full array of new technologies that can locate and produce oil and gas beyond the reach of today’s technologies, overcome the environmental challenges of using coal, and extract clean-burning hydrogen from fossil fuels.

In addition, the Office of Fossil Energy supports several initiatives to develop clean fuels from hydrogen and cleaner burning coal.

For statistical information relating to oil, natural gas, coal, and the electricity it produces, visit the Energy Information Administration.







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