‹ U.S. States

Alabama   Alabama Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

Profile AnalysisPrint State Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)

Last Updated: April 16, 2015

Overview

Alabama's energy use per capita is high because of demand from the state's manufacturing base.

Alabama is located on the Gulf of Mexico where warm Gulf waters provide the abundant moisture that covers the state in humidity most of the year. Two-thirds of the state is Gulf coastal plain. In its north, Alabama rises to include the southwestern limits of the Appalachian Mountains. Although the climate is subtropical, cold air brings snow to the northern half of the state in most years.

Alabama is rich in energy resources. The state has substantial deposits of coal, and some crude oil and natural gas reserves, including coalbed methane resources. Several dams in the state provide hydroelectric power, and Alabama's forests, which cover more than two-thirds of the state's land, provide ample biomass.

Energy use in Alabama is well above the national average because of high demand from the state's manufacturing base. Alabama ranks in the top one-fourth of states in energy consumption per person. The industrial sector consumes the most energy, using more than the transportation sector and residential sector combined. Leading industries in the state include transportation equipment manufacturing, chemicals, primary metals, petroleum, coal, paper products, and food products. Despite high energy use for cooling during the hot, humid summers, the residential sector and the commercial sector together account for only about three-tenths of the state's total energy consumption. The transportation sector uses about one-fourth of Alabama's total energy, and the industrial sector uses more than two-fifths.

Petroleum

Alabama's three oil refineries can process about 120,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Alabama produces a small amount of crude oil from fields in the northwestern part of the state and on the Gulf Coast in the southwestern part of the state. Annual crude oil production has increased slightly in the past three years for the first time since a significant drop-off in the mid-1990s. Proved crude oil reserves have remained fairly constant over the past three decades at an average of just below 50 million barrels.

Alabama has three petroleum refineries. One refinery is located near the Port of Mobile, one is in Tuscaloosa on the Black Warrior River, and one is in Atmore. These refineries have a combined capacity of about 120,000 barrels of crude oil per calendar day. The refineries produce feedstocks for chemical plants, specialty products, transportation fuels, and asphalt. Petroleum products made at Alabama's refineries are delivered to local and regional markets and are shipped by pipeline to states in the Northeast. Alabama receives additional petroleum products from Texas and Louisiana that are transported through the Colonial Pipeline and the Plantation Pipeline systems.

The majority of the petroleum consumed in Alabama is used as transportation fuels, particularly motor gasoline. Reformulated gasoline is not required in Alabama and most of the state can use conventional gasoline year round. Counties in the Birmingham, Alabama, area are required to use motor gasoline with a reduced volatility during the summer months.

Natural gas

Alabama produces natural gas both onshore and offshore in state waters. The state's annual natural gas production has declined from its peak in 1996, and Alabama currently contributes less than 1% to the nation's total natural gas production. More than half of Alabama's natural gas production comes from onshore wells, and more than two-thirds of the state's onshore natural gas production comes from coalbed methane—natural gas derived from coal seams. Alabama's coalbed methane wells are located in the Black Warrior Basin and in the Cahaba Basin. Overall, Alabama's proved reserves of natural gas have fallen to about one-fourth of their 1992 peak of 5.8 trillion cubic feet.

An increasing amount of the natural gas delivered to end-use customers in Alabama is going to the electric power sector, and, since 2007, that sector has been the largest natural gas-consuming sector in the state. The industrial sector consumes the second-largest amount. Although about 3 out of every 10 households use natural gas for heating, the residential sector uses less than one-tenth of the natural gas delivered to end-use customers, primarily because of the state's mild winters.

Coal

Mobile, Alabama is one of the largest U.S. coal ports, handling both imports and exports.

Coal has been mined commercially in Alabama for more than 150 years, and the state ranks 13th in total coal production and 5th in bituminous coal production among the states. Alabama produces large amounts of high-quality bituminous coal in the northern part of the state from both surface and underground mines. The majority of the coal produced in Alabama is exported. Mobile, Alabama, is among the top four seaports for exporting U.S. coal, most of which is bound for Europe and South America. In 2013, Mobile also was second only to Tampa, Florida, in coal imports. Most of the coal mined in Alabama for domestic sale is delivered by railroad, barge, and truck to electric power plants in the state. Some coal is also delivered to industrial facilities. Minor amounts are delivered to nearby states.

About three-fourths of the domestically produced coal consumed in Alabama comes from other states. Wyoming is the largest coal supplier. Coal is delivered to Alabama by railroad, river barge, and truck. Coal is also imported, mostly from Latin America. Electric power plants are the biggest consumers of coal in the state.

Electricity

The Browns Ferry plant has the second largest nuclear electric generating capacity in the United States.

Alabama ranks among the top states in electricity generation. Coal has typically fueled the largest share of electric power generation in the state, but, because of market fluctuations and increased availability, natural gas has provided a larger share in recent years, exceeding coal-fired generation in 2012 and in 2014. Alabama is one of the 10 largest generators of electricity from nuclear power in the nation. The state's two nuclear power plants, with five reactors combined, typically produce about one-fourth of the electricity generated in Alabama. The three reactors at the Browns Ferry nuclear power plant in Limestone County have a combined generating capacity of 3,309 megawatts, second only to Arizona's Palo Verde plant in generating capacity among nuclear power plants in the United States.

Alabama is one of the top producers of hydroelectric power east of the Rocky Mountains, second only to New York. Hydroelectric dams, located mainly along the Alabama River and Coosa River, typically supply about 6% of the state's electricity generation. Alabama also ranks among the top 10 states for electricity generation from biomass, including wood byproducts from the state's substantial forest products industry.

Retail electricity sales in Alabama are highest in the industrial sector, followed closely by the residential sector. Average monthly consumption of electricity in Alabama's residential sector is among the highest in the country because of high air-conditioning demand during the hot summer months and the widespread use of electricity for home heating during the winter months. Nonetheless, Alabama's electricity production exceeds the state's consumption, which allows large amounts of electricity to be delivered to the neighboring states of Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia over several high-voltage interstate transmission lines.

Renewable energy

Alabama's hydroelectric facilities provide most of the state's renewable electricity generation. The rest of the state's renewable generation comes from biomass. Alabama ranks among the top states in net electricity generation from wood waste, landfill gas, and other biomass, most of which is generated by nonutility power producers. Additionally, a full-scale commercial biomass pellet plant with an annual capacity of 275,000 tons is located near Selma, Alabama. The state has few wind resources except along its short coastline and a few other areas along the spine of the mountains in northern Alabama where the wind resource is modest.

There is little commercial electricity generation from solar power in Alabama. However, the state's largest electric utility, Alabama Power, has installed solar panels on buildings in downtown Birmingham and Mobile, as well as on power poles throughout the state, to assess solar panel efficiency in Alabama's climate. Alabama Power is also researching blade design for wind turbine use in low-wind environments. The state's other major electricity provider, the Tennessee Valley Authority, offers homeowners and businesses financial incentives to install renewable energy generation and they receive credit on their utility bills for power sold back to the electric grid.

l