Human populations have grown dramatically over the past several hundred years, both within Virginia and across the world. Only with technological advancements could human numbers increase so rapidly. There are more of us than ever before, and some are able to enjoy a quality of life that only the most gifted of our ancestors could even dream of.
That technology so essential to our economy, and the quality of life that modern-day Virginians enjoy is powered by energy. Like other areas of the U.S., Virginia's energy sources are varied.
The term "primary energy" defines the basic sources of energy used in our society. Commonly included within this term are fossil fuels; nuclear fuels (such as uranium ore); and renewable energy sources originating from the sun (solar, wind, biomass, and hydroelectric), the heat of the earth's core (geothermal), and gravitational forces exerted by the sun and moon (the tides). Primary energy production within Virginia totals less than one-half of the total amount of energy consumed for generation of electricity and by end uses within state.
Virginia's predominant primary-energy product is coal, as the state is a major coal producer. Virginia is also a producer of natural gas and of small amounts of petroleum. Several of the state's rivers are harnessed to generate hydroelectric power.
Energy Imports and Exports
Virginia's only major energy export is coal, as in-state usage in a typical year is less than half of the state's production. Virginia's consumption of natural gas and petroleum products exceed in-state production by a substantial margin.
Virginia imports large amounts of energy, including petroleum products, natural gas, nuclear fuel for the state's nuclear power plants, and electrical energy that comes into the state on transmission lines. In fact, Virginia's energy imports total more than 50 percent of total in-state usage. Petroleum products account for about two-thirds of Virginia's net energy imports. Some of the coal used to generate electricity within the state is imported from out-of-state mines even though in-state coal usage is less than in-state production.
Electricity generation is a major use for the primary energy in Virginia. Electrical energy can be used for a far greater variety of purposes than any of the primary energy sources. However, the processes that generate electrical energy and the transport of that electrical energy through transmission lines are not 100 percent efficient. When fuels such as coal and natural gas are burned in electric power plants, a portion of the primary energy escapes from the combustion devices as heat; these losses occur through venting of combustion gases to the atmosphere and through cooling devices. Generally, today's fossil-fuel burning power plants are capable of converting between 30 and 55 percent of the energy in the fossil fuel to electrical energy, depending on the technology used. Transmission of electricity over long distances also results in energy losses, as the movement of electricity through electrical conductors generates heat that is lost to the environment. Thus, Virginia's end-use consumption of energy is less than the sum of in-state production plus energy imports.
The term "end use" energy consumption refers to energy consumed by households, industry, and commercial establishments and for transportation. Of the major economic sectors transportation is the largest end-use energy consumer, being responsible for over 40 percent of the state's total end-use consumption. The transportation sector primarily consumes energy as liquid fuels derived from petroleum. The residential and commercial sectors each depend on electricity for more than 50 percent of total energy consumption. About 20 percent of the state's total end-use consumption is in the form of electricity.