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Electricity explained Use of electricity

Electricity consumption in the United States was about 4 trillion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2022

Electricity is an essential part of modern life and important to the U.S. economy. People use electricity for lighting, heating, cooling, and refrigeration and for operating appliances, computers, electronics, machinery, and public transportation systems. Total U.S. electricity consumption in 2022 was about 4.07 trillion kWh, the highest amount recorded and 14 times greater than electricity use in 1950. Total annual U.S. electricity consumption increased in all but 11 years between 1950 and 2022, and 8 of the years with year-over-year decreases occurred after 2007.

Total electricity end-use consumption includes retail sales of electricity to consumers and direct use electricity. Direct use electricity is used by the same industrial or commercial sector facility where it is produced. The industrial sector accounts for most direct use electricity. Total direct use of electricity by the industrial and commercial sectors was about 3.5% of total electricity end-use consumption in 2022.

Total U.S. electricity end-use consumption in 2022 was about 3.2% higher than in 2021.1 In 2022, retail electricity sales to the residential sector were about 2.6% higher than in 2021, and retail electricity sales to the commercial sector were about 4.7% higher than in 2021. Electricity retail sales to the industrial sector in 2022 were about 2.0% higher than in 2021 but were about 4.1% lower than in 2000, the year of highest U.S. retail sales to the industrial sector. The industrial sector's percentage share of total U.S. electricity retail sales was about 31.1% in 2000 and 26.0% in 2022.

  • The retail sales of electricity to major consuming sectors and percentage share of total electricity retail sales in 2022 were:2
  • residential1.51 trillion kWh38.4%
  • commercial1.39 trillion kWh35.4%
  • industrial1.02 trillion kWh26.0%
  • transportation (mostly to public transit systems)0.01 trillion kWh0.2%

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Electricity was first sold in the United States in 1879 by the California Electric Light Company in San Francisco, which produced and sold only enough electricity to power 21 electric lights (Brush arc light lamps).

Heating and cooling are the largest residential electricity uses

Heating and cooling (air conditioning) account for the largest annual uses of electricity in the residential sector. Because these uses are mainly weather related, the amounts and their shares of total annual residential electricity consumption vary from year to year. The Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) data for 2020 indicate that air conditioning was the largest use of electricity in homes. The Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) provides estimates and projections for annual electricity use in the residential sector by type of end use.

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Computers and office equipment account for the largest share of commercial sector electricity consumption

Five uses of electricity hold the largest shares of total annual electricity use in the commercial sector: computers and office equipment (combined), refrigeration, space cooling, lighting, and ventilation.

Historically, electricity use for lighting was typically the largest share of total annual commercial sector electricity use, but its share has declined over time, mainly because of the increasing use of high-efficiency lighting equipment. Conversely, the amount and share of electricity use for computers and office equipment has increased over time. Space cooling requirements are determined by weather, climate, and building design and by heat produced by lighting equipment, computers, office equipment, miscellaneous appliances, and building occupants.

The Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) provides detailed data on electricity use in commercial buildings in selected years. The AEO provides estimates and projections for annual electricity use by the commercial sector.

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Machine drives are the largest use of electricity by U.S. manufacturers

The industrial sector uses electricity to operate machinery and facilities. Some industries—such as aluminum and steel manufacturing—use electricity for process heat, and other industries—such as food processors—use electricity for cooling, freezing, and refrigerating food. Many manufacturers, especially pulp and paper and lumber mills, generate their own electricity for direct use, mostly in combined heat and power systems. Some manufactures sell some of the electricity that they generate.

The Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey (MECS) provides detailed data on electricity use by type of manufacturer and by major end uses in selected years. The AEO provides estimates and projections for annual electricity purchases by the industrial sector and by type of industry and manufacturer. According to the AEO2023 Reference case, in 2022, manufacturers account for about 78% of total annual industrial sector electricity purchases, followed by construction (8%), mining (8%), and agriculture (7%).3

Electricity use in the United States is projected to grow slowly

Although near-term U.S. electricity demand may fluctuate as a result of year-to-year changes in weather, trends in long-term demand tend to be driven by economic growth offset by increases in energy end-use efficiency. In the AEO2023 Reference case, the annual growth in total U.S. electricity demand is projected to average about 1% from 2022 through 2050.

World electricity consumption is expected to increase for all consuming sectors

In the International Energy Outlook 2023 Reference case, global electricity consumption is expected to increase in all major energy end-use sectors through 2050. Much of the increase is because, over time, we expect that electricity grids will expand in regions where access to an electricity grid is currently limited. For example, as electrification expands throughout China, India, and Africa and energy consumers gain access to electricity, and in turn consume less end-use fossil fuels, electricity consumption increases. Efficiency improvements will offset some of the consumption increases, but increases in consumption due to electrification surpass decreases in consumption due to efficiency improvements.

1 Electricity consumption data includes only electricity generated by utility-scale power plants—those with electric generation capacity of 1 megawatt or more. Data excludes electricity at distributed or small-scale facilities with an electric generation capacity of less than 1 megawatt, for example, small-scale solar photovoltaic generation.
2 Monthly Energy Review, Electricity, Table 7.6, November 2023.
3 Annual Energy Outlook 2023 Reference case, Tables 6 and 24 through 34, March 2023.

Last updated: December 18, 2023, with data from source reports as indicated.