If you think the alternative fueling stations in the US are a varied group of substances, the different ways we produce electricity are an even bigger group. There are 24 different types of power plants amongst the largest 2,500 power plants in the United States mapped below. Unlike gas for vehicles, there is not an undisputed leader amongst power plants. Natural Gas is tops and only makes up 42% of the production facilities. However, geography favors certain types more than others, and you’ll find smaller plants and populations with different types of leading power types. Click around and explore this community-produced map to see how the US makes its electricity.
View US Power Plants in a full screen map
|Fuel type||Power plants||Acronym definition|
|BLQ||49||black liquor, a renewable biomass fuel|
|MSW||25||municipal solid waste|
Unsurprisingly, most of these power plants are near large populations. The more people there are, the more power they need. Since this dataset contains the 2,500 largest facilities, they’re most likely to be near urban areas along each coasts and near large cities throughout the west and midwest.
As you explore each energy source, there are some trends that begin to appear. For example, uranium is most common along the Atlantic and in the midwest. By comparison, hydropower along the West coast and in southeast.
Coal is most common east of the Mississippi River. California is the most populous state, but it only has five coal power plants amongst the top 2,500 plants nationwide. Oregon and Washington each have one, continuing the trend along the west coast.
Things get really interesting in small and remote states. Hawaii is as remote as it gets, and its population is served by 13 of the largest power plants, nine of which use petroleum. Alaska has only seven facilities that make the list of the top power plants, and five of them are natural gas-powered. The geographically large state has a sparse population, which means many of its power plants are much too small to appear amongst the top in the nation. According to the Alaska Power Association, there are 50 hydroelectric plants in the state, the smallest of which is the six-megawatt Power Creek plant serving 2,700 Cordova area residents. Obviously, that one does not make the map.
Amongst the smallest producers on the top list (which starts at 45 megawatt stations), hydropower is the most common. The reason it leads the way for smaller stations is likely because it can be created easily at a small scale—just add water, or a water source, at least.
Outside of the US, German engineers are looking to turn their surplus wind into another type of hydropower, hydrogen. The zero emission fuel has long been a darling of alternative fuel advocates. If they make the scientific advances to make the process efficient, perhaps we’ll see an output other than electricity at the US’s 240 wind power plants. And that would likely mean an increase from the measly 56 hydrogen fuel stations currently open across the US.