The Biden administration wants to force the transportation sector to electrify.
Each average sized refinery in the United States produces as much usable energy (in gasoline and diesel) as two average sized nuclear reactors currently producing electricity in the United States.
There are 125 operating petroleum refineries, but only 93 operating nuclear reactors in the electricity sector in the United States.
The Biden administration wants to force the transportation sector to electrify. To that end, they have proposed very aggressive regulations from the EPA and NHTSA which mandate ever-increasing numbers of electric vehicles be bought by Americans. If the Biden administration has its way, the United States will replace oil refineries with new power plants as cars consume electricity instead of oil.
So how many power plants would we have to build to replace our refineries? We did the math (see below for a step-by-step description) and each average sized refinery in the United States produces as much usable energy (in gasoline and diesel) as two average sized nuclear reactors currently producing electricity in the United States. The much-touted modular reactors now being discussed, however, are much smaller than today’s fleet in size and output so their numbers would have to multiply accordingly.
For additional context, as of 2022 in the United States, there are 125 operating petroleum refineries, but only 93 operating nuclear reactors in the electricity sector in the United States.
Here’s the math:
Energy Produced from the Average Refinery in Gasoline and Diesel
In 2022, refineries in the United States produced an average of 9,569,000 barrels of gasoline per day. That is a total of 401,898,000 gallons of gasoline per day. With 125 operating refineries, that is an average gasoline output of 3,215,184 gallons per day. To compare the energy in gasoline to electricity, we need to convert that to kilowatt hours (kWh). According to the EIA, a gallon of gasoline contains 120,214 Btu and one kWh is 3,412 Btus, therefore a gallon of gasoline contains 35.233 kWh of energy. In 2022, the average refinery produced 113,280,578 kWh of energy daily in the form of gasoline or a total of 41,347,410,923 kWh.
For diesel, in 2022, refineries in the United States produced 73,460,000,000 gallons of diesel. With 125 operating refineries in 2022, the average refinery produced 587,680,000 gallons of diesel in 2022. According to the EIA, a gallon of diesel contains 137,381 Btus and one kWh is 3,412 Btus, therefore a gallon of diesel contains 40.264 kWh of energy. In summation, the average refinery produced 23,662,347,520 kWh of energy in the form of diesel in 2022.
Combining the energy produced from gasoline and diesel in refineries, the average refinery produced 65,009,758,443 kWh from gasoline and diesel in 2022. To compare the energy in gasoline and diesel and their use in internal combustion engines to electric vehicles, we need to adjust the energy for the efficiency loss of internal combustion engines. According to FuelEconomy.gov, about 16-25% of the energy in fuel is translated to the vehicle’s wheels, with the rest going to thermal, friction, drivetrain and other losses, although recent technological applications have improved things quite a bit. We used the mid-point of 20.5 percent.
In sum, from the average refinery, 13,327,000,481 kWh of electricity make it to vehicle wheels every year.
Site note: refineries also produce nearly 72 million gallons of jet fuel a day which is nearly 204 million kWh of energy[mh1] [DS2] per day. However, we do not include that energy output in this calculation and therefore we understate the energy contributions from refineries.
Energy Produced by the Average Nuclear Power Plant
The average nuclear reactor in the United States for electricity generation is 1080 MW (See EIA-860). The nameplate capacity of the St. Lucie Nuclear Power Plant is two 1080 MW reactors. (See EIA-860). Combined, the two reactors produced 16,289,785,000 kWh in 2022. (See EIA-923).
With electricity, there are some losses as electricity travels from the generators to the EV charging equipment. According to the EIA, transportation and distribution losses averaged by 5 percent in 2017-2021. Also, while EV drivetrains convert a higher percentage of energy to the wheels, there are some losses. According to FuelEconomy.gov about 87-91% of energy is translated to an EV’s wheels. In the calculation below, we used the mid-point of 89%.
In sum, two average-sized nuclear reactors produce 13.8 billion kWh a year compared to the average refinery producing 13.3 billion kWh a year in energy from gasoline and diesel.
It is important that the American people know that to electrify all road transportation, enormous new amounts of electricity must be generated and transported—the equivalent of two nuclear reactors for every refinery they replace. These skyrocketing new costs must be borne by consumers and ratepayers, even if they cannot afford to buy one of the new government mandated EVs since everyone uses electricity.