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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).

Electricity consumption in the United States was about 3.85 trillion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2016

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. Electricity use in the United States in 2016 was more than 13 times greater than electricity use in 1950.

Total electricity consumption includes retail sales of electricity to consumers and direct use electricity. Direct use electricity is both produced by and used by the consumer. The industrial sector generates and uses nearly all of the direct use electricity. In 2016, retail sales of electricity were about 3.71 trillion kWh or 96% of total electricity consumption. Direct use of electricity was about 0.14 trillion kWh or 4% of total electricity consumption.

Shares of total U.S. retail sales of electricity by consuming sectors in 2016:

  • Residential–38%
  • Commercial–37%
  • Industrial–25%
  • Transportation–0.2% (mostly by public transit systems)

Cooling is the single largest use of electricity by the U.S. residential sector

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that in 2016, space cooling (air conditioning) was the single largest use of electricity by the U.S. residential sector, followed by water heating, lighting, space heating, refrigeration, and televisions and related electronic equipment. The combined use by clothes washers and dryers, computers and related equipment, dishwashers, small appliances, and other electrical equipment was about 40% of total U.S. residential sector electricity use in 2016.1

Refrigeration replaces lighting as the single largest annual use of electricity in the U.S. commercial sector

EIA estimates that in 2016, refrigeration was the largest single end use of electricity in the U.S. commercial sector, which includes retail, office, education, institutional, public, and government facilities and outdoor and public street lighting.2 Lighting's share of total electricity consumption in the commercial sector has declined over time, mainly because of increases in more efficient lighting technologies. The other major uses of electricity in commercial buildings are for computers and other office equipment, space cooling, ventilation, and space and water heating. Other uses of electricity in commercial buildings include powering medical, security, and fire suppression equipment; powering elevators and escalators; and running cooking and laundry equipment. Non-building uses of electricity include water supply services, sewage treatment facilities, telecommunications equipment, and outdoor and public street lighting.

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

About half of the electricity that U.S. manufacturers use is for operating machinery. Process and boiler heating is the next largest use of electricity at about 13%. Use of electricity for lighting is about 7%.3

Electricity use in the United States is projected to grow slowly

Electricity consumption in the United States declined in only three years between 1950 and 2007. However, it declined in six of the years from 2008 through 2016, with the largest year-over-year drop (about 4%) occurring in 2009. One contributing factor to the drop in electricity consumption was the economic downturn in late 2007 through 2009. The economic downturn led to a large decrease in electricity sales to the industrial sector. Other factors, such as efficiency improvements associated with new appliance standards in the buildings sectors and overall improvements in the efficiency of technologies powered by electricity, have slowed electricity demand growth and may contribute to slower future growth. In the Annual Energy Outlook 2017, Reference case, total U.S. electricity use grows by an average of less than 1% per year from 2016 to 2040.

World electricity use may grow fastest in non-OECD countries

The member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) consumed about 48% of the world's total electricity supply in 2012. In the International Energy Outlook 2016, OECD nations' share of world electricity use is projected to be 39% in 2040.

1 Estimates from Annual Energy Outlook 2017, Table 4, January 2017.
2 Estimates from Annual Energy Outlook 2017, Table 5, January 2017.
3 Data from Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey 2010, Table 5.1, March 2013.