This one’s for the energy nerds out there. The University of Texas Austin’s Energy Institute has put out an incredibly useful interactive map showing what types of power plants are cheapest to build in every county in the continental United States. (No, really, it’s fascinating.)
Playing around with the map, you can see why natural gas and renewables are likely to provide much of America’s new electric capacity going forward. It also shows why, despite Trump’s promises, it will be extremely difficult to build new US coal plants anytime soon. And you can explore the effects a carbon tax might have on America’s grid — or, say, the development of much cheaper nuclear reactors.
Let’s start with the basics. This map below shows the cheapest power plant to build today in every county, when “availability zones” are factored in (based on where the researchers expect you could physically build a plant). In most of the US, the lowest-cost plants tend to be natural gas combined cycle plants (NGCC, in red) or wind farms (in green). In the West, utility-scale solar photovoltaic plants (in purple) prevail:
This explains why solar, wind, and natural gas have been the vast, vast majority of new capacity additions in the past few years — and will be for the foreseeable future, according to the US Energy Information Administration.