Known as the Silver State, Nevada is rich in mineral deposits; however, the state has no significant fossil fuel reserves. Located almost entirely in the Great Basin, an arid high plateau with no outlet to the sea, Nevada has the lowest average annual precipitation in the nation, and much of the state is desert. The Sierra Nevada Mountains brush the western edge of Nevada and open prairie and deep canyons occupy northeastern Nevada. The state’s many mountain ranges rise from the desert floor, and their slopes are home to lush forests that give the state some biomass resource. The mountain ridges provide the state with wind power potential. Nevada has substantial geothermal and solar energy development, as well as some wind and landfill biomass power generation. More than four-fifths of Nevada’s land is under federal control—a higher share than in any other state in the nation—and one of the nation’s largest federal dams, Hoover Dam, spans the Colorado River between Nevada and Arizona, supplying the state with hydroelectric power. However, most of Nevada’s energy comes from out of state.
Settlers first flocked to Nevada in 1859, after silver and gold were discovered in the Comstock Lode near Virginia City. Nevada is still one of the largest sources of gold in the world, providing more than four-fifths of U.S. gold production. Although mining for gold, silver, and other minerals remains important, the state’s economy has grown to encompass aerospace and defense, information technology, renewable energy, and tourism. Las Vegas and Reno have become tourist destinations for gaming and entertainment, and the hospitality industry is the state’s largest employer.
Tourism to Las Vegas and Reno helps make the transportation sector one of Nevada’s biggest energy consumers.
Nevada had the fastest-growing population of any state from 2000 to 2010. The state’s population is concentrated around its water resources. Almost three-fourths of Nevada’s residents live in Clark County, which borders the Colorado River and includes the city of Las Vegas. Nearly half of the state’s counties have fewer than two residents per square mile. In part because of tourism, the transportation sector is the state’s second-largest energy-consuming sector, using almost one-third of the end-use energy consumed in Nevada. The electric power sector is the leading energy-consuming sector in the state. Overall, the state’s economy is not energy-intensive, and per capita energy consumption is well below the national average, despite the heavy use of air conditioning in the hot summers.
Nevada gets almost half of its renewable power generation from geothermal resources.
More than one-fifth of Nevada’s electricity generation is fueled by renewable energy. Nevada is one of the few states that has utility-scale electricity generation from utility-scale geothermal resources, and those resources account for almost half of the state’s renewable power generation. Nevada is second in the nation, after California, in the amount of geothermal power produced and has the country’s largest untapped geothermal resources. Most of the rest of Nevada’s renewable generation comes from hydroelectric power plants, primarily the Hoover Dam, the third largest power plant in the state, and from solar photovoltaic (PV) power. Built in less than five years during the Great Depression, the Hoover Dam also supplies electricity to Arizona and California and is a National Historic Landmark. A rapidly increasing share of Nevada’s electricity generation has come from solar resources, particularly several large-scale solar thermal and solar PV projects. The state leads the nation in solar power potential, and, in 2015, Nevada ranked among the top five states nationally in installed solar electric capacity. Electricity generation from solar PV almost doubled between 2014 and 2015. Nevada is home to the world’s first hybrid geothermal-solar PV-solar thermal power plant. That facility began as a geothermal power plant in 2009, and later PV panels were added, creating a baseload geothermal facility with peaking solar generation. In 2015, a solar thermal power plant was added to the facility.
Nevada also has wind power potential along the state’s mountain ridges. Because the federal government controls much of the land in the state, most large-scale wind projects need some federal rights-of-way. The state’s first utility-scale commercial wind farm on public lands opened in 2012. It is the only wind project online in the state, and no new wind projects are currently under construction.
Nevada’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) requires that increasing percentages of electricity sold to retail customers in Nevada must come from renewable resources, reaching the goal of 25% of retail electricity sales by 2025. As of 2016, 6% of the renewable requirement, 1.5% of the state’s total net generation, must come from solar power. Up to one-fourth of the total RPS goal can be met by energy efficiency measures, half of which must be at residential customer service locations.
Natural gas is the primary fuel for power generation in Nevada. Eight of the state’s 10 largest power plants by generating capacity are natural gas-fired, and natural gas fuels nearly three-fourths of Nevada’s net electricity generation. Minimizing the use of scarce water in conventional generation is a priority for Nevada. The state’s largest generating plant, NV Energy’s Chuck Lenzie Generating Station, uses high-efficiency natural gas combined-cycle technology and recycles three-fourths of the water it uses. It also reduces water use by employing one of North America’s largest air-cooled condenser systems.
Coal-fired power plants supply less than one-tenth of Nevada’s net generation. Until 2006, one of the largest power plants in the state was the coal-fired Mohave Generating Station. That plant received coal by what was the longest coal slurry pipeline in the nation. Plant operations were suspended in 2005, and the plant was later dismantled, primarily because of environmental concerns but also because of decreased water supply for the 273-mile long slurry pipeline that ran from a mine in northern Arizona to the power plant in Nevada. Coal-fired electricity generation in Nevada has declined to about one-sixth of the level it was in 1990 as the state’s coal-fired power plants have been retired. In compliance with a 2013 state law, Nevada’s largest utility is planning to eliminate most of its coal-fired electricity generation by the end of 2019. Renewable energy resources, mainly geothermal, hydroelectric, and solar power plants, are supplying an increasing share of the state’s net generation and now contribute about three times as much of the state’s net electricity generation as coal does.
Electricity consumption per capita in Nevada is near the national average. The industrial sector is the leading electricity-consuming sector, followed closely by the residential sector, where about one in three households use electricity for home heating. However, Nevada’s electricity consumption exceeds in-state generation, and the state obtains needed electricity over high-voltage transmission lines from other states.
Two separate transmission grids provide power to Nevada. One grid supplies the Las Vegas area and is connected to the Arizona, southern Utah, and California grids. The other power grid supplies communities in the northern part of Nevada, including the cities of Elko and Reno. The northern grid is tied into Idaho, northern Utah, and northern California. Transmission projects running the length of the state, through the eastern desert from Idaho to Las Vegas, connected the two grids for the first time in 2014. That connection, along with other new transmission lines in the state, has facilitated development of electricity generation projects fueled by either natural gas or renewable sources. Renewable energy projects in remote parts of Nevada can now be linked to the state’s population centers. Other large-scale transmission projects are routed through Nevada for the delivery of renewable power to the states of California and Arizona, as well as Nevada.
A limited amount of natural gas is produced in Nevada. All of it is produced from oil wells in association with petroleum production. The state’s natural gas production does not meet Nevada’s needs, and interstate pipelines supply Nevada with natural gas from producing regions in nearby states. The Las Vegas area receives natural gas primarily by pipeline through Utah from the Opal trading hub in Wyoming. Secondary supply comes from a pipeline crossing Arizona bringing natural gas from the Permian Basin in Texas and the San Juan Basin in New Mexico. Other pipeline systems transport natural gas from the Malin trading hub in Oregon and from interstate pipelines from Idaho that supply the Reno area. Three-fourths of the natural gas received in Nevada moves on to other states. About half of the natural gas that enters the state continues on to California. Of the natural gas consumed in Nevada, slightly more than two-thirds is used for electricity generation, and almost half of the rest is consumed by the residential sector. Three in five Nevada households use natural gas as their primary home heating fuel.
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