Free Interactive Report
Affordable and Clean Energy in the US
By 2030, Affordable and Clean Energy – SDG 7, aims to ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all. This includes decreasing reliance on fossil fuels, addressing the cost of electricity, increasing the use of renewable energy sources, improving energy efficiency, and investing in technology and infrastructure to support the clean energy transition.
Affordable and Clean Energy in Context
Access to energy is a strong driver of a country's growth and development. Electricity allows us to refrigerate food and medicine, and light and heat our homes, schools, and hospitals. Other types of energy allow us to drive cars or use public transportation.
Globally it is estimated that 1.2 billion people around the world still lack access to electricity and 3 billion rely on cooking and heating fuels that cause high amounts of indoor air pollution (like wood and charcoal). Additionally, because of the ways we currently produce energy, it is also the dominant contributor to climate change, accounting for over half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
The US makes up just 4% of the world’s population but consumes 16% of its energy and emits 15% of global energy-related CO2 emissions. Currently, 40% of the energy produced in the US goes to making electricity. In 2020, nearly 20% of electricity generated in the US came from renewable sources.
One of every three households in the US faces challenges with paying their energy bills each month.
Energy Production in the US
The US uses and produces a variety of types and sources of energy. Primary energy includes fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal), nuclear, and renewables (solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, hydropower). These primary sources can then be used to power our cars and public transportation, or converted to electricity (a secondary energy source), which flows through power lines and other infrastructure to our homes and businesses.
Nearly 40% of energy produced in the US goes to generating electricity. Residential, commercial, and industrial customers each account for roughly 1/3 of the nation’s electricity use.
electricity in the
US comes from
Although electricity is a clean and relatively safe form of energy when it is used, the generation and transmission of electricity affects the environment, and can significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions when the energy source used for generation is fossil fuel. Using renewable sources generally does not contribute to climate change or local air pollution since no fuels are combusted. The term clean energy refers to the combination of renewable energy and energy efficient processes to reduce both the amount of fuel needed to generate electricity, and the amount of greenhouse gases and other air pollution emitted as a result.
In 2020, 60% of the electricity produced from power plants came from fossil fuels (40% from natural gas, 19% from coal, the rest from petroleum). Around 20% came from nuclear energy, and nearly 20% from renewables (8% from wind, 7% from hydro, and 2% from solar).
With an endless supply of renewable resources, there is the potential to power our communities 100% from clean energy alone. The main obstacles to achieving this are the cost, technology limitations, and geographic limitations of certain sources:
- Solar – more efficient in areas where there is a good level of annual sunlight.
- Wind – only viable where there is enough wind.
- Geothermal – this can only generate power in parts of the world with enough thermal activity close to the surface of the earth.
- Hydro – hydroelectric dams can only be built in specific locations.
- Biomass – requires an adequate supply of crops, vegetation, or waste products. This makes it unsustainable in arid locations.
Energy Affordability and Insecurity
In addition to increasing the use of clean energy, the US must also improve the accessibility of energy - especially through addressing the issue of affordability.
The US Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) found that nearly 1/3 of US households have trouble paying energy bills, or maintaining sufficient heating and cooling. They also found that:
- 20% of households (25 million) reported reducing or forgoing necessities such as food and medicine to pay an energy bill. 7 million households reported facing this challenge on a monthly basis.
- 14% (17 million) reported receiving a disconnection notice for energy service.
- 11% of households reported keeping their home at unhealthy or unsafe temperatures.
afford their energy
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of US households are facing large past-due utility bills. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association estimates there is a total of $27 billion in past-due balances of US households. However, the ability to afford monthly utility payments is not new. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, an estimated $11 billion was owed by 20 million households.
There are three main types of electric power utility providers in the US:
- Investor-owned utilities (IOUs) are large electric distributors that issue stock owned by shareholders.
- Publicly run or managed utilities (POUs) includes federal, state, and municipal-run utilities, and public utility districts—utilities that residents vote into existence that operate independently of city or country government.
- Cooperatives (co-ops) are not-for-profit member-owned utilities. Co-ops are currently located in 47 states, concentrated in the Midwest and Southeast.
Although there are fewer investor-owned utilities than the types of utilities, they tend to be very large, and supply the vast majority of customers with electricity. They also tend to have the most expensive prices because of their commitments to their shareholders. The price of primary energy sources, costs for running and maintaining power plants and the distribution grid, weather, and government regulations also impact the price of electricity.
Explore More Using Our Interactive Report
This interactive report is continuously updated and it is free thanks to X4Impact Founding Partners. The report highlights some selected energy indicators.
You can view average electricity costs, trends on the use of renewable energy and fossil fuels, and electricity utility provider statistics nationally, or by state. You can also understand the flow of money to fund nonprofits working on affordable and clean energy, as well as exploring by state the list of nonprofits that work on this issue.
Energy Source for Electricity Production
The Negative Effects of Energy
By relying primarily on fossil fuels for energy production, the US emits over 5,100 million metric tons (MMmt) of carbon dioxide (CO2, the main greenhouse gas behind climate change). CO2 emissions by the US electric power sector made up over 30% of all energy-related emissions in 2020.
In addition to contributing to climate change, using fossil fuels contributes to the pollution of our air and water, impacting our health and wellbeing. The substances that are released when fossil fuels are burned include:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Carbon monoxide (CO)
- Sulfur dioxide (SO2)
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx)
- Particulate matter (PM)
- Heavy metals such as mercury
Nearly all of these have negative effects on the environment and human health including:
- Contributing to the greenhouse effect - the main driver of climate change.
- Causing acid rain, which is harmful to plants and to animals that live in water.
- Causing respiratory illnesses, lung damage, asthma, chronic bronchitis, heart diseases, emphysema, and lung cancer - particularly impacting children and the elderly.
The Economic Impacts of Energy
Fossil fuels continue to dominate our energy supply. Coal makes more than half of our electricity needs and the US transportation sector relies heavily on petroleum -responsible for 20% of our climate change pollution. We spend $1 billion every day on foreign oil.
US clean energy investment climbed to a record $78.3 billion in 2019 - primarily solar and wind, second in the world behind China. $1 million spent on clean energy in the US generates more than twice as many jobs as $1 million spent on fossil fuels. In 2019 zero-emissions generation like solar and wind was responsible for about 544,000 jobs, more than twice as many as the 214,000 jobs in fossil fuels.
Energy efficiency upgrades can reduce rural energy burdens by as much as 25%, translating into more than $475 in annual savings for rural households. Wind farms paid $761 million in state and local taxes in 2018, plus $289 million in lease payments to farmers and landowners who hosted wind turbines on their land.
Key Indicators of Success Defined by the United Nations for UN SDG 7
The United Nations has defined 5 Targets and 6 Indicators to track progress towards reaching the Sustainable Development Goal of Affordable and Clean Energy by 2030 including:
- Increase the share of people with electricity access at the household level.
- Increase the renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, biomass) share in total energy consumption.
- Double the improvement in energy efficiency.
- Increase access, technology, and investments in clean energy.
Interactive Chart Sources:
- Average monthly electricity bill: X4Impact analysis and classification of US Census Bureau 2020 data.
- Energy sources for electricity generation: X4impact analysis of US Energy Information Administration (EIA) 2002 to 2020.
- Customers served by utility providers: X4impact analysis of US Energy Information Administration (EIA)
- Nonprofit-related data: X4Impact analysis of over one million forms 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service -IRS 2018-2021
- EIA – Electricity in the US
- EIA – US Energy Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions
- EIA – Use of energy explained Energy use for transportation
- EIA – Electricity explained: Factors affecting electricity prices
- EIA – Renewable energy explained
- EIA – Utility Providers
- EPA – Energy and the Environment
- EPA – US Electricity System
- EPA – Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
- NPR – 31 Percent Of US Households Have Trouble Paying Energy Bills
- NWF – Reducing Fossil Fuel Reliance
- University of Michigan – US Energy System Fact Sheet 2021
- UN SDG Tracker – SDG 7
- WRI – 10 Charts Show the Economic Benefits of US Climate Action
- WRI – How Wind Turbines Are Providing a Safety Net for Rural Farmers