This energy map of the U.S. attempts to demystify the "energy realities" in the nation by charting regional and state energy production, consumption, markets, policies, and infrastructure.
It wasn't that long ago when talking about energy sources, energy infrastructure, and energy policies were more for the energy wonks than for the rest of us, who really only cared about whether or not we had access to that energy, and not so much about where it came from or how it got here. And that was all well and good when energy was cheap, the externalities of energy production weren't widely acknowledged, and we weren't privy to the details of such things as the science of air pollution and climate change and sea level rise and ocean acidification, That's not to say that we shouldn't have been paying more attention, but merely that most of us weren't, and therefore had no informed opinion of the what, where, how, and why of energy production and consumption.
But thankfully, more and more of us are waking up everyday to the reality that we need to build a better, cleaner, and less harmful energy ecosystem, and we're taking steps in the right direction with the growth of distributed solar (rooftop solar), utility-scale solar and wind farms, battery storage, electric vehicles, and the emergence of a range of relevant devices, such as home energy management systems and 'smart' appliances and the like. However, even with these additional tools at hand, unless we start to understand the bigger picture of our energy sources, our energy demands, the networks necessary for the transmission of that energy, whether it be electricity or natural gas or gasoline, as well as the policies that drive energy production and consumption, then we're not going to be able to really make informed decisions about energy, whether it's at the ballot box or through our bank accounts.
And quite frankly, based on what some fossil fuel lobbyists seem to think about environmentalists and activists, we're pretty naive in our energy knowledge, even though many of us do make the effort to understand that even as we seek to transition away from using predominantly fossil fuels and move toward renewable energy instead, we're not going to be able to do that overnight (hence the use of the word 'transition').
One potential path to a better understanding of America's energy landscape could be through a new visualization from Saxum, an energy consulting company, titled The United States of Energy. This map, which Saxum calls "the most comprehensive" energy visualization tool yet, breaks the geographically huge nation into regions that share common energy characteristics (such as Hydro Northwest and Solar Southwest and so on), and then summarizes each region's energy ecosystem and charts each state's energy production, consumption, market, and policies.
For example, in my state, New Mexico, I can see that we produce more energy than we consume overall, but also that even though we're an excellent location for solar, most of the energy production here comes from coal, oil, and gas. Our average electricity cost is higher than the average US cost, and our state's policies about renewable energy production are rather timid (20% of all electricity from investor-owned electric utilities must come from renewables by 2020). New Mexico is ranked as the fourth largest net supplier of energy nationally, yet when it comes to the market and infrastructure ratings, we fall solidly in the middle of the pack (23rd and 24th, respectively). When I view my state and region's energy statistics like this, it makes me wonder when the year 2015 will arrive here in my little corner of the southwest, and redoubles my commitment to participating more in local and state elections, as well as engaging in more activism in renewable energy issues.
Although Saxum claims that when making this interactive map, they have "stayed away from politics and playing favorites with any individual resource," basing everything on facts, there are still some telltales of bias in its explainer post, which proclaims in bold type "The U.S. gas and oil industry alone supports more than 9.8 million jobs nationwide" and then displays this gem:
"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."
I'm not sure what to do with that statement, other than to see it as a subtle message about how we don't have to worry about decreasing fossil fuel consumption in favor of renewable energy. But I could be wrong.
Regardless, the map appears to be objective, and while still (barely) wonky enough for energy nerds, The United States of Energy is also simple enough for the layman to understand, and may serve as a useful reference when engaging in conversations about energy and energy policies, or as a starting point for further research into effective pathways to energy transition.