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What drives gasoline prices infographic that explains the four factors going into the cost at the pump
This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.
Across the United States, the cost of gas has been a hot topic of conversation lately, as prices reach record-breaking highs.
The national average now sits at $5.00 per gallon, and by the end of summer, this figure could grow to $6 per gallon, according to estimates by JPMorgan.
But before we can have an understanding of what’s happening at the pump, it’s important to first know what key factors influence gasoline prices.
This graphic, using data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), outlines the main components that influence gasoline prices, providing each factor’s proportional impact on price.
According to the EIA, there are four main factors that influence the price of gas:
More than half the cost of filling your tank is influenced by the price of crude oil. Meanwhile, the rest of the price at the pump is split fairly equally between refining costs, marketing and distribution, and taxes.
Let’s look at each factor in more depth.
The most influential factor is the cost of crude oil, which is largely dictated by international supply and demand.
Despite being the world’s largest oil producer, the U.S. remains a net importer of crude oil, with the majority coming from Canada, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Because of America’s reliance on imports, U.S. gas prices are largely influenced by the global crude oil market.
A number of geopolitical factors can influence the crude oil market, but one of the biggest influences is the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia.
Established in 1960, OPEC was created to combat U.S. dominance of the global oil market. OPEC sets production targets for its 13 member countries, and historically, oil prices have been linked to changes in OPEC production. Today, OPEC countries are responsible for about 60% of internationally traded petroleum.
Oil needs to be refined into gasoline before it can be used by consumers, which is why refining costs are factored into the price of gas.
The U.S. has hundreds of refineries across the country. The country’s largest refinery, owned by the Saudi Arabian company ​​Saudi Aramco, processes around 607,000 barrels of oil per day.
The exact cost of refining varies, depending on a number of factors such as the type of crude oil used, the processing technology available at the refinery, and the gasoline requirements in specific parts of the country.
In general, refining capacity in the U.S. has not been keeping up with oil demand. Several refineries shut down throughout the pandemic, but even before COVID-19, refining capacity in the U.S. was lagging behind demand. Incredibly, there haven’t been any brand-new refining facilities built in the country since 1977.
In the U.S., taxes also play a critical role in determining the price of gas.
Across America, the average gasoline tax is $0.57 per gallon, however, the exact amount fluctuates from state to state. Here’s a look at the top five states with the highest gas taxes:
*Note: figures include both state and federal tax
States with high gas taxes usually spend the extra money on improvements to their infrastructure or local transportation. For instance, Illinois doubled its gas taxes in 2019 as part of a $45 billion infrastructure plan.
California, the state with the highest tax on gas, is expecting to see a rate increase this July, which will drive gas prices up by around three cents per gallon.
Lastly, the costs of distribution and marketing have an impact on the price of gas.
Gasoline is typically shipped from refineries to local terminals via pipelines. From there, the gasoline is processed further to ensure it meets market requirements or local government standards.
Gas stations then distribute the final product to the consumer. The cost of running a gas station varies—some gas stations are owned and operated by brand-name refineries like Chevron, while others are smaller-scale operations owned by independent merchants.
The big-name brands run a lot of advertisements. According to Morning Consult, Chevron, BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp., and Royal Dutch Shell PLC aired TV advertisements in the U.S. more than 44,495 times between June 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2021.
If only a fraction of America’s oil comes from Russia, why is the Russia-Ukraine conflict impacting prices in the U.S.?
Because oil is bought and sold on a global commodities market. So, when countries imposed sanctions on Russian oil, that put a squeeze on global supply, which ultimately drove up prices.
This supply shock could keep prices high for a while unless the U.S. falls into a recession, which is a growing possibility based on how recent data is trending.
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Renewable energy is the foundation of the ongoing energy transition. What are the key types of renewable energy, and how do they work?
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Awareness around climate change is shaping the future of the global economy in several ways.
Governments are planning how to reduce emissions, investors are scrutinizing companies’ environmental performance, and consumers are becoming conscious of their carbon footprints. But no matter the stakeholder, energy generation and consumption from fossil fuels is one of the biggest contributors to emissions.
Therefore, renewable energy sources have never been more top-of-mind than they are today.
Renewable energy technologies harness the power of the sun, wind, and heat from the Earth’s core, and then transforms it into usable forms of energy like heat, electricity, and fuel.
The above infographic uses data from Lazard, Ember, and other sources to outline everything you need to know about the five key types of renewable energy:
Editor’s note: We have excluded nuclear from the mix here, because although it is often defined as a sustainable energy source, it is not technically renewable (i.e. there are finite amounts of uranium).
Though often out of the limelight, hydro is the largest renewable electricity source, followed by wind and then solar.
Together, the five main sources combined for roughly 28% of global electricity generation in 2021, with wind and solar collectively breaking the 10% share barrier for the first time.
The levelized cost of energy (LCOE) measures the lifetime costs of a new utility-scale plant divided by total electricity generation. The LCOE of solar and wind is almost one-fifth that of coal ($167/MWh), meaning that new solar and wind plants are now much cheaper to build and operate than new coal plants over a longer time horizon.
With this in mind, here’s a closer look at the five types of renewable energy and how they work.
Wind turbines use large rotor blades, mounted at tall heights on both land and sea, to capture the kinetic energy created by wind.
When wind flows across the blade, the air pressure on one side of the blade decreases, pulling it down with a force described as the lift. The difference in air pressure across the two sides causes the blades to rotate, spinning the rotor.
The rotor is connected to a turbine generator, which spins to convert the wind’s kinetic energy into electricity.
Solar technologies capture light or electromagnetic radiation from the sun and convert it into electricity.
Photovoltaic (PV) solar cells contain a semiconductor wafer, positive on one side and negative on the other, forming an electric field. When light hits the cell, the semiconductor absorbs the sunlight and transfers the energy in the form of electrons. These electrons are captured by the electric field in the form of an electric current.
A solar system’s ability to generate electricity depends on the semiconductor material, along with environmental conditions like heat, dirt, and shade.
Geothermal energy originates straight from the Earth’s core—heat from the core boils underground reservoirs of water, known as geothermal resources.
Geothermal plants typically use wells to pump hot water from geothermal resources and convert it into steam for a turbine generator. The extracted water and steam can then be reinjected, making it a renewable energy source.
Similar to wind turbines, hydropower plants channel the kinetic energy from flowing water into electricity by using a turbine generator.
Hydro plants are typically situated near bodies of water and use diversion structures like dams to change the flow of water. Power generation depends on the volume and change in elevation or head of the flowing water.
Greater water volumes and higher heads produce more energy and electricity, and vice versa.
Humans have likely used energy from biomass or bioenergy for heat ever since our ancestors learned how to build fires.
Biomass—organic material like wood, dry leaves, and agricultural waste—is typically burned but considered renewable because it can be regrown or replenished. Burning biomass in a boiler produces high-pressure steam, which rotates a turbine generator to produce electricity.
Biomass is also converted into liquid or gaseous fuels for transportation. However, emissions from biomass vary with the material combusted and are often higher than other clean sources.
Despite the recent growth of renewables, fossil fuels still dominate the global energy mix.
Most countries are in the early stages of the energy transition, and only a handful get significant portions of their electricity from clean sources. However, the ongoing decade might see even more growth than recent record-breaking years.
The IEA forecasts that, by 2026, global renewable electricity capacity is set to grow by 60% from 2020 levels to over 4,800 gigawatts—equal to the current power output of fossil fuels and nuclear combined. So, regardless of when renewables will take over, it’s clear that the global energy economy will continue changing.
The biggest wind turbines can reach over 200 meters and cost more than $12 million to manufacture and install.
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Since the early 2000s, wind turbines have grown in size—in both height and blade lengths—to generate more energy per unit.
Today, the tallest turbines can reach over 200 meters (650 ft) in height and cost more than $12 million to manufacture and install.
The above infographic uses data compiled from company portfolios to showcase the biggest wind turbines currently being developed and to put these huge structures into perspective.
The biggest turbines are all located over water. The so-called offshore turbines can be taller than those onshore, which means they can harness more wind energy and produce more electricity.
MingYang Smart Energy, a Chinese wind turbine manufacturer, is in the process of building the biggest wind turbine so far.
Their new MySE 16.0-242 model is still under construction and is expected to be online by 2026. It will be 264 meters tall, with a blade length 118 meters long and rotor diameter of 242 meters. It features a nameplate capacity of 16 megawatts that can power 20,000 homes per unit over a 25-year service life. The first commercial turbine will be installed at the MingYang Yangjiang Qingzhou Four offshore wind farm, which is in the South China Sea.
Here are four of the biggest wind turbine models on the market right now, the companies that are making them, and where the prototypes are being installed:
These huge structures can be two times taller than a typical turbine currently in operation, generating almost four times more energy.
Prototypes for two of the top four turbine models—the SG 14-236 DD and V236-15.0— are scheduled to be installed in 2022 in Denmark, a country that was a pioneer in developing commercial wind power during the 1970s, and is home to the world’s largest wind-turbine manufacturer, Vestas.
From our list, General Electric’s Haliade-X is the only turbine currently online; the prototype has been operating since October 2021 in the Netherlands.
Wind generated 6.6% of the world’s electricity in 2021, up from 3.5% in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed, making it the fastest-growing source of electricity after solar.
A number of countries have achieved relatively high levels of wind energy penetration in their electricity grids.
Wind’s share of electricity generation was nearly 50% in Denmark and sits above 25% in countries such as Ireland, Uruguay, and Portugal. In the United States, wind supplied 8.4% of total electricity generation.
Source: Ember’s Global Electricity Review 2022
Note: Countries with populations fewer than 3 million in 2021 were not included in this ranking.
The global wind turbine market size was valued at $53.4 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $98.4 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 6.3%.
As one of the fastest-growing segments of the energy sector, wind energy generation will continue to grow as wind turbines also scale up in size.
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