Companies in this industry operate electric power generation facilities that convert other forms of energy, such as fossil fuels, nuclear, water, wind, and solar power, into electrical energy. Major companies include American Electric Power, AES, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Exelon, and Tennessee Valley Authority (all based in the US), along with China Huaneng Group and Datang Power (both in China), EON (Germany), Inter RAO (Russia), and Tokyo Electric Power Company (Japan).
While deregulation has altered power markets in many nations, electric utilities often continue to operate as unofficial monopolies in a given service territory. Demand is driven by commercial, government, and residential needs for electrical power, which depend mainly on economic activity and population growth. Profitability is determined by government regulations, efficiency, and fuel costs. Large companies have an advantage in negotiating fuel contracts and being able to pass the costs of implementing government regulations directly to consumers. Small companies can compete effectively by exploiting market niches, such as offering green power in regulated markets. The US industry is highly concentrated: the 50 largest companies account for about 85% of revenue.
Products, Operations & Technology
The primary product of the industry is alternating current (AC) electrical power. Electricity is produced by generators that convert mechanical energy into electrical energy when large coils are rotated in a powerful magnetic field. Most commercial power comes from turbine engines powered by steam produced by burning fossil fuels, mainly coal and natural gas. Other power sources include steam from nuclear reactors; conventional hydroelectric conversion; and renewable sources such as solar, wind, and geothermal. Coal and natural gas each produce more than 30% of electricity used in the US. In 2017 natural gas was used to produce 32% of the electricity generated in the US; coal accounted for 30%. Other sources include nuclear, 20%; hydroelectric, 7%; wind, 6%; biomass, 2%; and solar, about 1%.