Energy diversity helps balance the benefits, risks and costs associated with producing electricity. Maintaining a diverse supply of fuels for electricity production protects consumers from potential price volatility from any one fuel.
Nuclear energy facilities provide 19 percent or about one-fifth of the nation’s electricity at an average cost of 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Nuclear power plants do not produce carbon dioxide or air pollutants, and their fuel costs are stable. Exacting controls and highly skilled personnel are needed to ensure the safe handling and use of radioactive materials.
Coal-fired power plants provide 37.4 percent of America’s electricity at an average cost of 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour. Coal is abundant and relatively cheap, but burning it contributes to air pollution. New technologies are making coal-fired generating facilities cleaner, but these innovations also add to the cost.
Natural gas facilities account for most of the new generating capacity brought on line in the past decade. Natural gas provides 30.4 percent of our electricity at an average cost of 3.4 cents per kilowatt-hour. Although natural gas prices are cheap today, unexpected factors that impact the availability of fuel could significantly affect the price of electricity from that source.
Wind provides nearly 3.5 percent of America’s electricity, but it is intermittent and requires a significant amount of land—100 times the land needed for the equivalent electricity production from nuclear energy. Wind facilities complement other sources of electricity, but they cannot provide the massive amounts of power needed around the clock.
Solar energy produces 0.1 percent of America’s electricity. Like wind power, it can augment other electricity sources, but solar-generated power remains intermittent.