Energy in the United States
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Energy in the United States comes mostly from fossil fuels: in 2010, data showed that 25% of the nation's energy originates from petroleum, 22% from coal, and 22% from natural gas. Nuclear energy supplied 8.4% and renewable energy supplied 8%, mainly from hydroelectric dams and biomass; however, this also includes other renewable sources like wind, geothermal, and solar.
The United States was the second-largest energy consumer in 2010 after China. The country is ranked seventh in energy consumption per capita after Canada and several small nations. As of 2006, the country's energy consumption had increased more rapidly than domestic energy production over the last 50 years in the nation (when they were roughly equal). This difference was largely met through imports. Not included is the significant amount of energy used overseas in the production of retail and industrial goods consumed in the United States.
According to the Energy Information Administration's statistics, the per-capita energy consumption in the US has been somewhat consistent from the 1970s to the present time. The average was about 334 million British thermal units [BTU] (352 GJ) per person from 1980 to 2010. One explanation suggested that the energy required to increase the nation's consumption of manufactured equipment, cars, and other goods has been shifted to other countries producing and transporting those goods to the US with a corresponding shift of green house gases and pollution. In comparison, the world average increased from 63.7 to 75 million BTU (67.2 to 79.1 GJ) per person between 1980 and 2008.
From its founding until the late 19th century, the United States was a largely agrarian country with abundant forests. During this period, energy consumption overwhelmingly focused on readily available firewood. Rapid industrialization of the economy, urbanization, and the growth of railroads led to increased use of coal, and by 1885 it had eclipsed wood as the nation's primary energy source.
Coal remained dominant for the next seven decades, but by 1950, it was surpassed in turn by both petroleum and natural gas. The 1973 oil embargo precipitated an energy crisis in the United States. In 2007, coal consumption was the highest it has ever been, with it mostly being used to generate electricity. Natural gas has replaced coal as the preferred source of heating in homes, businesses, and industrial furnaces, which burns cleaner and is easier to transport.
Although total energy use increased by approximately a factor of 50 between 1850 and 2000, energy use per capita increased only by a factor of four. As of 2009, United States per-capita energy use had declined to 7.075 tonnes of oil equivalent (296.2 GJ), 12% less than 2000, and in 2010, to levels not seen since the 1960s. At the beginning of the 20th century, petroleum was a minor resource used to manufacture lubricants and fuel for kerosene and oil lamps. One hundred years later it had become the preeminent energy source for the United States and the rest of the world. This rise closely paralleled the emergence of the automobile as a major force in American culture and the economy.
While petroleum is also used as a source for plastics and other chemicals, and powers various industrial processes, today two-thirds of oil consumption in the US is in the form of its derived transportation fuels. Oil's unique qualities for transportation fuels in terms of energy content, cost of production, and speed of refueling all contributed to it being used over other fuels.
In June 2010, the American Energy Innovation Council, a group which includes Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft; Jeffrey R. Immelt, chief executive of General Electric; and John Doerr, has urged the government to more than triple spending on energy research and development—to $16 billion a year. Gates endorsed the administration's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, but said that was not possible with today's technology or politicism. He said that the only way to find such disruptive new technology was to pour large sums of money at the problem. The group notes that the federal government spends less than $5 billion a year on energy research and development, not counting one-time stimulus projects. About $30 billion is spent annually on health research and more than $80 billion on military research and development. They advocate for a jump in spending on basic energy research.
| Mtoe = 41,868 TJ>, Prim. energy includes energy losses that are 2/3 for nuclear power
2012R = CO2 calculation criteria changed, numbers updated
|Supply sources||Percent of source||Demand sectors||Percent of sector|
5% Residential and commercial
1% Electric power
3% Natural gas
5% Renewable energy
28% Residential and commercial
34% Electric power
45% Natural gas
12% Renewable energy
<1% Residential and commercial
91% Electric power
|Residential and commercial
76% Natural gas
8% Renewable energy
7% Residential and commercial
57% Electric power
26% Natural gas
17% Renewable energy
23% Nuclear electric power
|Nuclear electric power
|100% Electric power|
Note: Sum of components may not equal 100% due to independent rounding.
Primary energy consumption
Primary energy use in the United States was 90,558 petajoules [PJ] (25,155 TWh) or about 294,480 megajoules [MJ] (81,800 kWh) per person in 2009. Primary energy use was 3,960 PJ (1,100 TWh) less in the United States than in China in 2009. The share of energy import was 26% of the primary energy use. The energy import declined about 22% and the annual CO2 emissions about 10% in 2009 compared to 2004.
Energy consumption by source
|Fuel type||United States||World|
solar, wood, waste
Oil is one of the largest sources of energy in the United States. The United States influences world oil reserves for both growth and development. As the 20th century progressed, petroleum gained increasing importance by providing heating and electricity to the commercial and industrial sectors. Oil was also used in transportation; first for railroads and later for motor vehicles.
As automobiles became more affordable, demand for oil quickly rose. Since the rise of the automobile industry, oil price, demand, and production have all increased as well. Between 1900 and 1980, fuel was directly correlated with Gross National Product (GNP). Furthermore, oil shocks have often coincided with recessions, and the government has responded to oil shocks in several ways. In the 1920s, oil prices were peaking and many commentators believed that oil supplies were running out. Congress was confronted by requests to augment supplies, so a generous depletion allowance was enacted for producers in 1926, which increased investment returns substantially. This change induced additional exploration activity, and subsequently the discovery of large new oil reservoirs.
In the next decade the situation was reversed with prices low and dropping. This resulted in demands for more "orderly" competition and set minimum oil prices. Rather than repealing the previous policies enacted in the 1920s, Congress enacted a price-support system. Similar cycles have occurred in the 1950s and 1970s.
Natural gas was the largest source of energy production in the United States in 2016, representing 33% of all energy produced in the country. Natural gas has been the largest source of electrical generation in the United States since July 2015.
The United States has been the world's largest producer of natural gas since 2009, when it surpassed Russia. US natural gas production achieved new record highs for each year from 2011 through 2015. Marketed natural gas production in 2015 was 28.8 trillion cubic feet (820 billion cubic metres), a 5.4% increase over 2014, and a 52% increase over the production of 18.9 trillion cu ft (540 billion m3) per day in 2005.
Because of the greater supply, consumer prices for natural gas are significantly lower in the United States than in Europe and Japan. The low price of natural gas, together with its smaller carbon footprint compared to coal, has encouraged a rapid growth in electricity generated from natural gas.
Between 2005 and 2014, US production of natural gas liquids (NGLs) increased 70%, from 1.74 million barrels of oil equivalent (10.6 PJ) per day in 2005 to 2.96 million barrels of oil equivalent (18.1 PJ) per day in 2014. The US has been the world's leading producer of natural gas liquids since 2010, when US NGL production passed that of Saudi Arabia.
Although the United States leads the world in natural gas production, it is only fifth in proved reserves of natural gas, behind Russia, Iran, Qatar, and Turkmenistan.
Generation of electricity is the largest user of coal, although its use is in decline. About 50% of electric power was produced by coal in 2005, declining to 30% in 2016.:1 Electric utilities buy more than 90% of the coal consumed in the United States.
The United States is a net exporter of coal. Coal exports, for which Europe is the largest customer, peaked in 2012 and have declined since. In 2015, the US exported 7.0% of mined coal.
Coal has been used to generate electricity in the United States since an Edison plant was built in New York City in 1882. The first AC power station was opened by General Electric in Ehrenfeld, Pennsylvania in 1902, servicing the Webster Coal and Coke Company. By the mid-20th century, coal had become the leading fuel for generating electricity in the US. The long, steady rise of coal-fired generation of electricity shifted to a decline after 2007. The decline has been linked to the increased availability of natural gas, decreased consumption, renewable electricity, and more stringent environmental regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency has advanced restrictions on coal plants to counteract mercury pollution, smog, and global warming.
Final energy consumption
Consumption by sector
The US Department of Energy tracks national energy consumption in four broad sectors: industrial, transportation, residential, and commercial. The industrial sector has long been the country's largest energy user, currently representing about 33% of the total. Next in importance is the transportation sector followed by the residential and commercial sectors.
|Sector name||Description||Major uses|
|Industrial||Facilities and equipment used for producing and processing goods.||22% chemical production|
16% petroleum refining
14% metal smelting/refining
|Transportation||Vehicles which transport people/goods on ground, air, or water.||61% gasoline fuel|
21% diesel fuel
|Residential||Living quarters for private households.||32% space heating|
13% water heating
11% air conditioning
5% wet-clean (mostly clothes dryers)
|Commercial||Service-providing facilities and equipment (businesses, government, other institutions).||25% lighting|
6% water heating
Household energy use varies significantly across the United States. An average home in the Pacific region (consisting of California, Oregon, and Washington) consumes 35% less energy than a home in the South Central region. Some of the regional differences can be explained by climate. The heavily populated coastal areas of the Pacific states experience generally mild winters and summers, reducing the need for both home heating and air conditioning. The warm, humid climates of the South Central and South Atlantic regions lead to higher electricity usage, while the cold winters experienced in the Northeast and North Central regions result in much higher consumption of natural gas and heating oil. The state with the lowest per-capita energy use is New York, at 205 million BTU (216 GJ; 60 MWh) per year, and the highest is Wyoming, at slightly over 1 billion BTU (1,100 GJ; 290 MWh) per year.
Other regional differences stem from energy efficiency measures taken at the local and state levels. California has some of the strictest environmental laws and building codes in the country, leading its per-household energy consumption to be lower than all other states except Hawaii.
The land-use decisions of cities and towns also explain some of the regional differences in energy use. Townhouses are more energy efficient than single-family homes because less heat, for example, is wasted per person. Similarly, areas with more homes in a compact neighborhood encourage walking, biking and transit, thereby reducing transportation energy use. A 2011 US EPA study found that multi-family homes in urban neighborhoods, with well-insulated buildings and fuel-efficient cars, can save more than 2/3 of the energy used by conventionally built single-family houses in suburban areas (with standard cars).
The United States is the world's second largest producer and consumer of electricity. It consumes about 20% of the world's electricity supply. This section provides a summary of the consumption and generation of the nation's electric industry, based on data mined from US DOE Energy Information Administration/Electric Power Annual 2017 files. Data was obtained from the most recent DOE Energy Information Agency (EIA) files. Consumption is detailed from the residential, commercial, industrial, and other user communities. Generation is detailed for the major fuel sources of coal, natural gas, nuclear, petroleum, hydro, and the other renewables of wind, wood, other biomass, geothermal, and solar. Changes to the electrical energy fuel mix and other trends are identified. Progress in wind and solar contributing to the energy mix are addressed. Expected changes in the generation environment during the next 5 years are discussed.
Electricity consumption data in this section is based upon data mined from US DOE Energy Information Administration/Electric Power Annual 2017 files In 2017, the total US consumption of electricity was 4,090.6 terawatt-hours [TWh] (14,726 PJ). Consumption was essentially down from 2016 with a reduction of 45.5 TWh (164 PJ) or 1.0% drop. This is broken down as:
- Residential customers (132.58 million) directly consumed 1,378.6 TWh (4,963 PJ) or 37.03% of the total. This was down 32.5 TWh (117 PJ) (-2.3%) from 2016. An average residential customer used 866.55 kWh (3,119.6 MJ) per month, and with the average US residential cost of $0.1289/kWh ($0.0358/MJ), the average monthly electrical bill would be $111.70, down slightly from 2016.
- Commercial customers (18.359 million) directly consumed 1,352.9 TWh (4,870 PJ) or 36.34% of the total. This was less (14.31 TWh or 51.5 PJ) than in 2016, even though there were over 211,000 new customers. An average commercial customer used 6,141 kWh (22,110 MJ) per month, and with the average US commercial electric cost of $0.1066/kWh ($0.0296/MJ), the average monthly electrical bill would be $654.60, down slightly from 2016.
- Industrial customers (about 840,300; up 2,200 in 2016) directly consumed 984.3 TWh (3,543 PJ) or 26.44% of the total. This was a little more (7.6 TWh or 27 PJ) than in 2016 (+0.8%).
- Transportation customers (86) directly consumed 7.52 TWh (27.1 PJ) or 0.20% of the total. This was a little higher (0.2 TWh or 0.72 PJ) than in 2016.
- System loss throughout the total electrical grid infrastructure by direct use of the suppliers was 141.1 TWh or 508 PJ, and transmission, other system losses, and unaccounted loads (226.1 TWh or 814 PJ) amounted to 367.2 TWh (1,322 PJ) or 9% of the total, which is down by 0.1% from 2016. Thus, the US electric distribution system is 91% efficient, and its efficiency has improved slightly over the last year.
In addition to consumption from the electrical grid, the US consumers consumed an estimated additional 23.99 TWh (86.4 PJ) from small-scale solar systems. This will be included in the per-capita data below.
Electricity consumption per capita is based upon data mined from US DOE Energy Information Administration/Electric Power Annual 2017 files Population data is from Demographics of the United States. Per-capita consumption in 2017 is 12,632 kWh (45,480 MJ). This is down 229 kWh (820 MJ) from 2016, down 7.5% from a decade ago, and down 8.0% from its peak in 2007. The following table shows the yearly US per-capita consumption from 2013 to 2017.
|Year||Population (Millions)||Per-capita consumption (kWh)|
A profile of the electric energy consumption for 2017 is shown in the following graph. The February minimum of 295 TWh (1,060 PJ) to the July peak of 410 TWh (1,500 PJ) shows the monthly range of consumption variations.
The United States has an installed summer electricity generation capacity of 1,072.46 GW in 2017, down 1.8 GW from 2016. The US electricity generation was 4,034.3 TWh (14,523 PJ) in 2017. The US's net imports were 56.31 TWh (202.7 PJ), for a total of 4,090.6 TWh (14,726 PJ) of electrical energy use. Electrical energy generated from coal was 1,205.84 TWh or 4,341.0 PJ (29.48%); natural and other gases, 1,3908.89 TWh (32.0%); nuclear, 804.95 TWh or 2,897.8 PJ (19.68%); hydro, 300.33 TWh or 1,081.2 PJ (7.34%); Renewables (other than hydro), 386.28 TWh or 1,390.6 PJ (9.45%); imports less exports, 56.31 TWh or 202.7 PJ (1.38%); petroleum, 21.39 TWh or 77.0 PJ (0.52%); and miscellaneous (including pumped storage), 6.59 TWh or 23.7 PJ (0.16%). The US's renewable sources (hydro reported separately) are wind, 254.30 TWh or 915.5 PJ (6.22%); wood, 41.15 TWh or 148.1 PJ (1.01%); other biomass, 21.61 TWh or 77.8 PJ (0.53% ); geothermal, 15.93 TWh or 57.3 PJ (0.39%) and solar, 53.29 TWh or 191.8 PJ (1.3%). Small-scale solar is estimated to have produced an additional 23.99 TWh (86.4 PJ). Natural gas electricity generation exceeded generation from coal for the first time in 2016 and continued in 2017.
The following tables summarize the electrical energy generated by fuel source for the United States. Data from Electric Power Annual 2017 was used throughout this section.
|Power source||Generators||Summer capacity (GW)||% of total capacity||Capacity factor||Annual energy (TWh)||% of total US|
|Power source||Summer capacity (GW)||% of renewable capacity||% of total capacity||Capacity factor||Total generation (TWh)||% of renewable energy||% of total|
Note: Biomass includes wood and wood derived fuel, landfill gas, biogenic municipal solid waste, and other waste biomass.
Electricity generation by source
Notes: 1 Gas includes natural gas and other gases. 2 Hydro excludes pumped storage (not an energy source, used by all sources, other than hydro). 3 Solar includes photovoltaics and thermal. 4 Bio other includes waste, landfill gas, and other. 5 Misc. includes misc. generation, pumped storage, and net imports. 6 Total includes net imports. 7 2018 data is from Electric Power Monthly and is preliminary.
State electric characteristics
Individual states have very diverse electric generation systems, and their new initiatives to expand their generation base are equally diverse. Coupled with consumption disparages, it leads to a mix of "have" and "have not" electric energy states. Using the data from the US DOE Energy Information Administration/Electric Power Annual 2017 files. Data was obtained from the most recent DOE Energy Information Agency (EIA) full year files. Full use of the excellent EIA data browser permits easy access to the plethora of data available.
State electric generation
Top ten states by fuel source
The following table, derived from data mined from Electric Power Annual, identifies those states which must import electrical energy from neighboring states to meet their consumption needs. Each state's total electric generation for 2017 is compared with the state's consumption, and its share of the system loss and the difference between the generated electric energy and its total consumption (including its share of the system loss) is the amount of energy it imports. For Hawaii, total consumption equals generated energy. For the other states, multiplying their direct consumption by 1.098744069 (4080770384/3714031773), results in the US's supply (including net imports) being equal to its total consumption.
|Retail sales (MWh)||Total usage (MWh)||MWh||% 2017||% 2016||Change|
The following table, derived from data mined from Electric Power Annual, identifies those states which generate more electrical energy than they need to meet their consumption needs. They supply those that need additional energy. Each state's total electric generation for 2017 is compared with the state's consumption, and its share of the system loses and the difference between the generated electric energy and its total consumption (including its share of the system losses) is the amount of energy it exports. For Hawaii, total consumption equals generated energy. For the other states, multiplying their direct consumption by 1.098744069 (4080770384/3714031773) results in the US's supply (including net imports) being equal to its total consumption usage. A state exported energy is determined by subtracting the state's total consumption from its generation.
|Retail sales (MWh)||Total usage (MWh)||MWh||% 2017||% 2016||Change|
Renewable energy in the United States accounted for 13.2% of the domestically produced electricity in 2014, and 11.2% of total energy generation. As of 2014, more than 143,000 people work in the solar industry and 43 states deploy net metering, where energy utilities buy back excess energy generated by solar arrays.
Renewable energy reached a major milestone in the first quarter of 2011, when it contributed 11.7% of total US energy production (2.245 quadrillion BTU or 2.369 EJ of energy), surpassing nuclear energy production (2.125 quadrillion BTU or 2.242 EJ). 2011 was the first year since 1997 that renewables exceeded nuclear in total US energy production.
Hydroelectric power is currently the largest producer of renewable energy in the US. It produced around 6.2% of the nation's total electricity in 2010 which was 60.2% of the total renewable energy in the US. The United States is the fourth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world after China, Canada, and Brazil. The Grand Coulee Dam is the 5th largest hydroelectric power station in the world.
US wind power's installed capacity now exceeds 65,000 MW and supplies 4% of the nation's electric power. Texas is firmly established as the leader in wind power development followed by Iowa and California.
The United States has some of the largest solar farms in the world. Solar Star is a 579-megawatt (MWAC) farm near Rosamond, California. The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a 550-megawatt solar power plant in Riverside County, California and the Topaz Solar Farm, a 550 MW photovoltaic power plant, is in San Luis Obispo County, California. The solar thermal SEGS group of plants in the Mojave Desert has a total generating capacity of 354 MW.
The development of renewable energy and efficient energy use marks "a new era of energy exploration" in the United States, according to President Barack Obama. Studies suggest that if there is enough political will, it is feasible to supply the whole United States with 100% renewable energy by 2050.
Trends and projections
In 2015, electrical energy usage in the United States was 1.6% more than in 2005 and 1% less than the peak in 2007. Per-capita consumption has decreased about 7% since its peak in 2007 and every year since has shown a decrease in individual consumption. Conservation efforts are helping. At least, for the next decade, coal, natural gas, and nuclear will remain the top three fuels for electric energy generation in the USA. Coal will continuously decrease its contribution, with natural gas increasing its contribution. Nuclear will have some downs (decommissionings) and ups (new online plants) but probably remain about constant. Hydro will maintain. Petroleum will continue to decrease in importance. Wind and solar will continue to grow in importance; their combined generation was 5.29% of US electric generation for 2015 or 5.20% of total US consumption.
From the beginning of the United States until 1973, total energy (including electrical) use increased by about 3% per year, while population increased an average of 2.2% per year. Per-capita energy use from 1730 to 1870 was about 100 million BTU (110 GJ) per person. In the 20th century this increased to around 300 million BTU or 320 GJ (332 million BTU or 350 GJ per person per year in 1981).
In 2001, Vice President Dick Cheney said the US would need "at least 1,300 new power plants over the next 20 years."
Efficiency improvements could cause energy use to drop considerably.
A concentrating solar array (CSP) with thermal storage has a practical capacity factor of 33% and could provide power 24 hours a day. Prior to 2012, in six southwestern states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah) the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owned nearly 98 million acres or 400,000 square kilometres (an area larger than the state of Montana) that was open to proposals for solar power installations. To streamline consideration of applications, the BLM produced a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). By the subsequent Record of Decision in October 2012, the BLM withdrew 78% of its land from possible solar development, leaving 19 million acres (77,000 km2) still open to applications for solar installations, an area nearly as large as South Carolina. Of the area left open to solar proposals, the BLM has identified 285,000 acres (115,000 ha) in highly favorable areas it calls Solar Energy Zones. In Spain, with natural gas backups, CSP has reached a capacity factor of 66%, with 75% being a theoretical maximum.[failed verification]
- Carter Doctrine
- The Climate Registry
- Efficient energy use
- Energy conservation in the United States
- Energy policy of the United States
- World energy resources
- World energy consumption
- List of countries by energy consumption and production
- List of countries by energy consumption per capita
- List of U.S. states by electricity production from renewable sources
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