In this guide, we provide a summary/breakdown of energy in the US.
We look at consumption, production, energy sources, energy mix, energy use by industry, and a forecast for future energy use.
Summary – Energy In The United States
Energy Use Compared To The Rest Of The World
Total Primary Energy Consumption
The United States has a lower total primary energy consumption than China
Total Electricity Consumption
The United States has a lower total electricity consumption than China
Per Capita Electricity Consumption
Interestingly, China has a far lower per capita electricity energy usage of 3,995 kWh per person compared to the US at 11,927 kWh per person (worlddata.info)
Sectors/Industries That Use The Most Energy
The industrial and transportation sectors have the higher shares of total primary energy consumption in the United States according to recent figures
The residential and commercial sectors are in third and fourth
The electricity generation industry alone has one of the highest energy usage totals, and many other industries depend on electricity from this industry indirectly
Total Energy Production
Some sources indicate the US produces roughly as much energy as it consumes, and other sources say the US produces about 90% of what it consumes
China’s energy production is higher than the US’ though
Energy Sources/Energy Mix
Most of the US’ primary energy production comes from natural gas and petroleum. Coal is in third place, followed by renewables, and then nuclear
So, fossil fuels provide most of the US’ energy
Having said this, the type of primary energy use varies by industry – transportation for example currently uses majority petroleum
The US has an overall smaller reliance specifically on coal than China currently does
Recent Energy Trends
The US’ energy production has gone through both periods of plateaus and uptrends since 1990, and the same is true for final electricity consumption
In terms of energy source % shares over time, some reports indicate coal is decreasing, natural gas is increasing, oil is staying roughly the same, nuclear is staying roughly the same, and wind and solar are slightly increasing
Future Energy Forecast
In terms of energy forecasts for the future, fossil fuels are still expected to provide majority of primary energy consumption going towards 2050
When looking at just electricity generation, natural gas and renewables are expected to attain bigger % shares compared to other energy sources
The energy mix of specific regions and states in the US can differ to country wide trends in energy mix (state and local governments can have some say in this)
There’s always variables that can impact energy in the future though, so, forecasts are an educated guess only
In terms of renewables, as mentioned above, the renewables % share of electricity generation could grow significantly through to 2050
Solar and wind in particular might be the two forms of renewable energy to grow the most
But, there’s challenges and variables to renewable energy growth in each State in the US
Transport & Heating
Total primary energy consumption and total primary energy production are a representation of the different ways we use energy in society
Along with electricity generation, a few other major ways we use energy are in transport (like for example with petroleum products), and also in heating (like for example with natural gas)
A Few Other Notes On Energy
There’s a difference between the % share a specific energy source might make up of a country’s energy mix, and the total amount of that energy source being used. For example, % share of renewables might go up in a 30 year period, but this could be caused simply by the total amount of renewable energy use increasing instead of the total amount of fossil fuels being used reducing. In this instance, the potential negative effects of fossil fuels like emissions and air pollutants might not actually reduce
When looking at renewables as an energy source, different types of renewables can make up different % shares e.g. solar or hydroelectric might make up more than wind for example. So, the type of renewable energy should always be expressed in it’s own % share
Fossil fuels, nuclear and other types of energy sources in the future might start specialising or diverging into sub-types e.g. clean coal technology vs regular coal. This is worth consideration
Electrification of cars (moving away from oil based fuel) and other vehicles could have a significant impact on the overall energy and electricity mix of a country
The Different Ways Energy Can Be Measured
Before looking at energy and electricity use, it’s worth being aware of the different ways energy can potentially be measured.
Oil, gas, and coal use can all be measured in different units
Additionally, electricity can be measured according to it’s production, and heat the same.
eia.gov outlines that:
[the different measurements of energy might be:]
liquid fuels in barrels or gallons, natural gas in cubic feet, coal in short tons, and electricity in kilowatts and kilowatt hours …
In the United States, British thermal units (Btu), a measure of heat energy, is commonly used for comparing different types of energy to each other.
Total Primary Energy Consumption In The United States
Total primary energy consumption takes into account all energy consumption, as opposed to just one type of energy consumption.
According to eia.org:
[In 2019, total U.S. primary energy consumption was equal to about 100.2 quadrillion Btu]
[The eia.org resource has a break down of this primary energy consumption available as well]
Comparatively, China’s total energy consumption was significantly higher
Total Electricity Consumption In The United States
Total electricity consumption takes into account only energy used to generate electricity – it does not take into account other forms of energy used for heating, transport, and so on.
According to iea.org:
[In 2018, the US’ total electricity consumption was 4288.8 TWh]
Per Capita Electricity Consumption In The United States
According to worlddata.info:
[Based on a] total consumption of energy [figure] in the US [of] 3,902.00 billion kWh of electric energy per year … [this equates to a] Per capita … average of 11,927 kWh
Energy Use By Sector Or Industry In The United States
The industrial sector (and specifically electricity generation as an industry within the industrial sector), and the transportation sector, are the major energy consuming sectors in the United States right now.
It’s worth noting that the industrial, residential, commercial and transportation sectors all consume electricity from the electricity generation industry.
The total primary energy consumption from the major sectors in 2017 were:
[The other four sectors consume most of that electricity generated from the electric power sector in the United States]
In terms of share of all energy consumption, including electricity, the break down between the sectors is:
The industrial sector – 32%
The transportation sector – 29%
The residential sector – 21%
The commercial sector 19%
[americangeosciences.org also has a break down of what each of these sectors include in their resource]
The % of energy use by end use sectors in 2017 was:
Industrial – 32%
Transportation – 29%
Residential – 20%
Commercial – 18%
[eia.gov also provides a breakdown of the industries and areas within these sectors in their resource]
You can also see a total energy flow for the different sectors in the US in the e-education.psu.edu resource in the resources list.
It shows what energy sources the energy comes from, and what sectors (in what %’s) the energy (in Btu) flows to.
How Much Energy The United States Produces
Some estimates say the US has the ability to completely supply all their own electrical energy right now based on energy production numbers
The total production of all electric energy producing facilities is 4,095 bn kWh, compared to a total consumption of 3,902.00 billion kWh
In 2017, the amount of energy produced in the United States was equal to about 87.5 quadrillion Btu, and this was equal to about 89.6% of U.S. energy consumption.
The difference between the amount of total primary energy consumption and total primary energy production was mainly the energy content of net imports of crude oil.
Comparatively, China’s energy production is higher than the US’
Where The United States Gets Its Energy From – Most Commonly Used Energy Sources, & Energy Mix
If you’d like a description of primary vs secondary energy sources, and the different energy sources, you can read this guide.
Additionally, you can read about the energy mixes of the major countries in the world in this guide.
But, when it comes to the United States specifically, fossil fuels make up majority of energy production.
In terms of % share, natural gas is first, followed by petroleum in second, and coal in third. Together, they make up over 75% of the US’ primary energy production.
[In terms of] U.S. primary energy production in 2017:
Petroleum (crude oil and natural gas plant liquids)—28.0%
Nuclear electric power—9.6%
In 2012, an energy sources breakdown was:
Natural gas 25%
Renewable Energy 9%
The pattern of fuel use varies widely by sector though.
For example, petroleum provides about 92% of the energy used for transportation, but only 1% of the energy used to generate electricity.
The United States’ Recent Energy Trends
Energy Production & Consumption
IEA.org shows several graphs that that show that, from 1990 up until 2018 (our notes on those graphs):
– energy production has plateaued up to 2009, before being on the uptrend since
– final electricity consumption had increased from 1990 to 2008, before somewhat plateauing since
Energy Sources/Energy Mix
In general, up to 2017 (our notes of various reports):
Coal use has been decreasing
Natural Gas use has been increasing
Crude oil was decreasing but has been increasing recently
Natural gas plant liquids (NGPL) have been increasing
Renewable energy sources have been increasing (solar, wind especially)
– eia.gov, e-education.psu.edu, and worlddata.info
Wikipedia’s data on US electricity generation by energy source indicates that (our notes on Wikipedia’s data):
Coal use is decreasing
Natural gas use is increasing
Renewable energy use is increasing
IEA.org shows a graph that indicates coal is decreasing, natural gas is increasing, oil is staying roughly the same, nuclear is staying roughly the same, and wind and solar are slightly increasing.
The IEA graph is worth looking at because it also shows other energy sources like hydropower, bioenergy, and so on.
Forecasts For The United States’ Energy Future
Several sources indicate that natural gas and renewables (solar and wind in particular) are expected to be the primary energy sources for electricity generation for the United States in the future
When expanded out to primary energy consumptions though (and not just electricity generation), fossil fuels including oil, coal and natural gas are still expected to provide majority of the energy
With natural gas in particular, if prices are low, then there is more incentive to use natural gas
aei.org indicates though that different variables that might impact energy mix in the future might include ‘macroeconomic growth, world oil prices, technological progress, and energy policies [can impact future energy mix]’
insideclimatenews.org also indicates that [the EIA’s projections for energy mix in the future don’t take into account changes to laws and regulations, go against some trends being seen right now such as the growth in wind energy in the MidWest, don’t take into account that no new coal plants are being built in the United States due to high costs, and the existing ones would be well beyond their useful lives by 2050, and don’t take into account offshore wind energy growth in addition to onshore]
By 2050, the electricity generation mix [could be] 39% natural gas, 31% renewables, 12% nuclear and 17% coal
Renewables specifically [could be] 48% solar PV, 25% wind, 18% hydroelectric, 4% geothermal and 5% other
Renewables and natural gas will be the primary sources of new energy generation from 2050
Renewables will remain behind natural gas in terms of energy produced
Renewables will surpass nuclear by 2020 and coal by 2025
Driven by growth in wind and solar generation, the renewable energy industry will increase from 18% in 2018 to 31% in 2050
Some sources indicate that by 2050, fossil fuels (crude oil, coal, and natural gas) will continue supplying about 80% of America’s energy for the next 32 years through 2050 [partly because they are low-cost, dependable and reliable energy]
Nuclear’s share of total energy will gradually fall from 8.4% this year to slightly above 6% in 2050
… all renewables together … will supply less than 15% of America’s energy [by 2050/mid century]
[some studies show that the] U.S. can generate most of its electricity from renewable energy by 2050
Variable resources such as wind and solar power can provide up to about half of U.S. electricity, with the remaining 30 percent from other renewable sources
[This scenario needs specific policies and measures though]
A prediction of US energy consumption in 2035 is Oil 32%, Natural Gas 26%, Coal 20%, Renewables 16%, and Nuclear 9%
Renewables are the biggest growth compared to 2012 numbers, increasing from 8% in 2012 to 16% in 2035
[US electricity generation is expected to grow in the future]
[Natural gas share is expected to continue to grow along with renewables, and coal decrease]
Renewable Energy Production & Consumption In The United States – Present & Future
From the above data …
Some of the lowest estimates put renewable energy at an energy share of around 3-4% higher than today by 2050, from 12% to around 16%.
This doesn’t take into account law and regulation change by the government that is pro renewables
But, when talking about just electricity generation and not overall energy supply, renewable energy electricity % share may jump as high as 30-40%, according to some estimates
Some studies indicate that most of the US’ electricity can be supplied by renewables by 2050 based on current technology, but this scenario depends on various factors to become reality
There’s ultimately many variables and tradeoffs when considering how much renewable energy growth can continue into the future
You can read more about renewables in the US in 2018, and some projections of the future at the prescouter.com resource
US Vehicle Fuel Consumption
Approximately 72.1% of the petroleum in the U.S. is used for transportation (e-education.psu.edu)
Aside from electricity generation and energy for transport, energy for heating and cooling is one of the other major areas that energy is used in society.
We will come back and update this section when more information is available
Energy Mix In Other Countries Worldwide
Read more about the energy mix of different major countries worldwide in this guide.