Three Distinctive Features of Tennessee’s Energy Economy: Part One

As in every state, the potential for the expansion of advanced energy technologies will be shaped by economic factors and assets that are unique to Tennessee. TAEBC identified three distinctive features of Tennessee’s energy economy that together reflect the challenges and opportunities for the expansion of advanced energy technologies:

  1. High Per-Capita Energy Consumption
  2. A Gap in Personal Income
  3. The Potential of Three Major Players (and Who are They?)

We’ll elaborate on Tennessee’s high per-capita energy consumption for this blog post and explore the other features in subsequent posts. 

The most distinctive feature of the state’s energy economy – and perhaps the greatest opportunity for an investment in advanced energy technologies – is the fact that Tennessee ranks as the 20th largest user of energy, per capita, in the U.S. The average residential consumer uses far more energy than consumers in almost all other states. In 2011, the average Tennessean used 87.8 million Btu’s of electricity, ranking Tennessee the 4th highest consumer of energy in the residential sector.[i]

In terms of industrial and commercial energy consumption per capita, Tennessee ranks as the 25th highest user. However, roughly 47 percent of energy consumed in Tennessee is for industrial and commercial purposes, while only 24 percent of Tennessee’s total consumption is for the residential sector. Approximately 29 percent of Tennessee energy consumption falls in the transportation sector.[ii]

TVA’s decision in 2007 to promote energy efficiency initiatives offers hope that historic patterns of energy consumption in Tennessee might gradually be reversed through the adoption of a combination of new energy technologies, government policies and TVA incentives designed to reduce residential demand for electric power. By 2010, energy efficiency programs had resulted in a savings of 143,000 megawatts of power, or about .14 percent of the state’s power consumption.[iii]

The introduction of new advanced energy technologies, particularly in the automotive industry, holds the promise of substantial reductions of energy use, both in the manufacturing of vehicles and in the amount of transportation energy used by the vehicles. The incorporation of similar technologies could have equally significant energy reductions for large commercial companies such as Federal Express.

Linked to TVA’s effort to reduce energy consumption is the agency’s parallel desire to lower the volume of emissions from coal-fired plants that provide more than one-half of the state’s electricity. The implementation of new energy technologies, some of which may be developed in Tennessee research institutions, can assist TVA in reaching that goal. In some instances, the ability to move these advanced energy technologies into the market will depend upon providing entrepreneurs with available capital and the support services required to stand up a new company.

The effort to reduce emissions from coal-fired plants is supplemented by initiatives to reduce the use of fossil fuels in Tennessee’s transportation industry. Joining with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the state of Tennessee has allocated substantial funds to promote research and deployment of biofuels. Working with the same two partners, in 2011 Nissan chose Tennessee as one of the first five states to introduce the company’s electric car. Memphis Bioworks Foundation has been a major catalyst for business-led approaches to commercial advanced biofuels, biomass and feedstocks across Tennessee and the Mid-South.

Tennessee’s largest employer, Federal Express, is partnering with the Department of Energy to test the ability of hydrogen fuel cells to reduce carbon emissions while simultaneously lowering costs in Fed Ex’s enormous fleet of delivery trucks by as much as 40 percent. Managed through a partnership that includes Smith Electric Vehicles and Plug Power, the $3 million project will equip 20 delivery trucks with lithium-ion batteries combined with a 10-kilowatt Plug Power hydrogen fuel cell system.[iv]

[i]Energy consumption per capita by end-use sector, 2011, U.S. Energy Information Administration., Retrieved from

[ii] Tennessee: State Profile and Energy Estimates, 2014, U.S. Energy Information Administration., Retrieved from

[iii] Clean Energy in My State: Tennessee Residential Energy Consumption, 2010. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. Retrieved from

[iv] Energy Department Invests Over $7 Million to Commercialize Cost-Effective Hydrogen and Fuel Cell. Energy.Gov. U.S. Department of Energy. Retrieved from Technologies