South Carolina’s electric power sector is the largest energy-consuming sector in the state.
South Carolina is located on the U.S. East Coast halfway between New York City and Miami, Florida. Much of the state is coastal plain, but South Carolina’s topography gradually rises from the Atlantic Ocean in the southeast to the Blue Ridge Mountains in the northwest. The coastal plain, which covers two-thirds of the state, is also known as the Low Country and extends westward from the coast until it reaches the Fall Line, an area of waterfalls and rapids. The remaining one-third of the state, known as the Up Country, has the forested hills of the Piedmont region and South Carolina’s mountains. Although the state does not have any fossil fuel reserves or production, it does have renewable resources. The state is crossed by many large rivers that flow from the mountains to the ocean, and South Carolina’s system of rivers and lakes provides considerable hydroelectric power potential. About two-thirds of South Carolina is forested. The wood waste from the state’s forests, lumber mills, and wood products industry yields significant amounts of biomass. Methane from landfills in more densely populated areas provides South Carolina with additional biomass resources. However, South Carolina’s primary energy resource is its nuclear power capacity.
The electric power sector uses the most energy in South Carolina, consuming three-fifths of the energy used in the state. Industry accounts for one-third of the state’s total energy use. South Carolina’s manufacturing activities contribute one-sixth of the state’s gross domestic product and include aeronautical and automotive assembly; chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and plastics; paper and wood products; fabricated metal products and primary metals; machinery; electrical equipment, computers, and electronic products; food products and processing; and textiles. The transportation sector uses more than one-fourth of the state’s total energy supply, primarily in the form of motor gasoline. Although South Carolina’s coastal islands and beaches, hot and humid summers, and mild winters draw tourists and new residents to this southeastern state, residential energy use accounts for less than one-fourth of the state’s energy consumption and the commercial sector accounts for one-sixth of state energy use.
Hydropower and biomass, South Carolina’s primary renewable resources, contribute more than 5% of the state’s total net electricity generation. There are dozens of hydroelectric generating plants in South Carolina, primarily in the western part of the state, and additional development potential exists at sites throughout South Carolina. Biomass contributes almost as much to South Carolina’s net generation as hydropower. The state has about 13 million acres of forest, and forestry is a leading industry in South Carolina. Logging residue is considered to be the state’s greatest source of underused biomass. It has been estimated that woody biomass could supply one-eighth of South Carolina’s electricity needs. Additionally, the manufacture of wood pellets is a growing industry in the state. The U.S. Department of Energy, using biomass fuel from forest debris collected within 100 miles of its Savannah River Site in Aiken, has replaced coal-fired and petroleum-fired cogeneration facilities with those fueled by biomass. The Savannah River facilities, in operation since 2012, are the largest publicly operated biomass facilities in the nation.
Landfill gas is used to generate electricity at about 20 facilities in South Carolina. In 2001, Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s largest electricity generator, became the first utility in the state to produce electricity using methane gas from landfills. Additionally, the state’s first anaerobic digester project came online in 2011. The anaerobic digester project generates power from methane gas captured at a hog farm. South Carolina has biomass resources in the form of agricultural residues from corn, wheat, and soybean crops, as well. Although the state is the third-largest consumer of ethanol in the nation, there are no ethanol production facilities in South Carolina. The state does have five biodiesel plants.
South Carolina does not have any appreciable onshore wind energy resource and does not have any installed wind capacity, but manufacturers and assemblers of wind turbine components are located in the state. A small but increasing share of South Carolina’s renewable generation comes from solar resources. The state offers tax credits to encourage the use of solar technologies. Geothermal resource applications in South Carolina focus on geothermal heat pumps.
In 2014, South Carolina’s legislature authorized the creation of distributed (customer-sired small-scale) energy resource programs by electric utilities and required the Public Service Commission to develop accompanying net metering rules. The legislation’s goal is to encourage the development of in-state renewable energy generation capacity by allowing a participating utility to recover costs connected with meeting the utility’s renewable generation target. The program has a target of 2% of aggregate generation capacity from renewable resources by 2021, half from facilities with capacities between 1 and 10 megawatts and half from facilities that have capacities of less than 1 megawatt. Additionally, in 2007, South Carolina established energy standards for public buildings requiring the development of energy conservation plans. The ultimate conservation goal is a 20% reduction in energy use from year 2000 levels by 2020.
South Carolina ranks third in the nation in nuclear generating capacity.
Nuclear energy dominates electricity generation in South Carolina, and the state’s largest power plant is a nuclear facility. Ranked third in the nation in nuclear generating capacity and annual generation, South Carolina produces more than half of its net electricity generation from nuclear power. There are currently seven operating reactors at four nuclear power plants in the state, and two more reactors are under construction. Coal-fired power plants supply almost one-fourth of South Carolina’s electricity generation. Two of the state’s five largest power plants are coal-fired. Natural gas fuels another one-sixth of the state’s generation, and almost all of the remaining electricity generation is provided by renewable resources, including conventional and pumped hydroelectric power plants and biomass-fueled facilities that use wood waste or landfill gas. South Carolina generates much more electricity than it consumes and sends its surplus to other states.
Per capita retail electricity sales in South Carolina are among the highest in the nation, in part because of the high demand for air conditioning during the hot and humid summer months. The largest share of retail electricity sales in the state are to the residential sector. Electricity consumption is also high because 7 in 10 South Carolina households use electricity as their primary energy source for home heating.
Because South Carolina has no natural gas production or reserves, all natural gas consumed in the state arrives via interstate pipeline. Several major interstate pipeline systems transport natural gas from the Gulf Coast and deliver it through Georgia to South Carolina. The state consumes substantial amounts of natural gas, but, because of the large volumes in the interstate pipeline system, more than three-fourths of the supply that enters South Carolina continues on to North Carolina on its way to markets further north.
Natural gas consumption by the electric power sector more than tripled in the past decade.
Natural gas use in South Carolina has increased in the past decade, most dramatically in the electric power sector, where consumption more than tripled. The electric power sector’s use of natural gas has exceeded that of any other sector since 2009. Industrial demand has remained fairly constant, and the industrial sector, which had led the state in natural gas use prior to 2009, is the second-largest natural gas consuming-sector in the state after the electric power sector. Winters are generally mild, and overall demand for heating in South Carolina is relatively low. Almost one in four South Carolina households use natural gas for home heating, but residential sector natural gas consumption lags behind that of the electric power sector and the industrial sector.
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