Americans use many types of energy
Petroleum, natural gas, coal, renewable energy, and nuclear electric power are primary energy sources. Electricity is a secondary energy source that is generated from primary energy sources.
Energy sources are measured in different physical units: liquid fuels in barrels or gallons, natural gas in cubic feet, coal in short tons, and electricity in kilowatts and kilowatthours. 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. In 2016, total U.S. primary energy consumption was about 97.4 quadrillion (1015, or one thousand trillion) Btu.
In 2016, the shares of total primary energy consumption for the five energy-consuming sectors were:
- Electric power—39%
- Natural gas—33%
- Petroleum (crude oil and natural gas plant liquids)—28%
- Renewable energy—12%
- Nuclear electric power—10%
- Coal production peaked in 2008 and trended down through 2016. Coal production in 2016 was about the same as production was in 1977. The primary reason for the general decline in coal production in recent years is the decrease in coal consumption for electricity generation.
- Natural gas production in 2016 was the second largest amount after the record high production in 2015. More efficient and cost-effective drilling and production techniques have resulted in increased production of natural gas from shale formations.
- Crude oil production generally decreased each year between 1970 and 2008. In 2009, the trend reversed and production began to rise. More cost-effective drilling and production technologies helped to boost production, especially in Texas and North Dakota. In 2016, crude oil production was lower than production in 2015, mainly because of lower global crude oil prices.
- Natural gas plant liquids (NGPL) are hydrocarbon gas liquids that are extracted from natural gas before the natural gas is put into pipelines for transmission to consumers. NGPL production has increased alongside increases in natural gas production. In 2016, NGPL production reached a record high.
- Total renewable energy production and consumption both reached record highs of about 10 quadrillion Btu in 2016. Hydroelectric power production in 2016 was about 12% below the 50-year average, but increases in energy production from wind and solar helped to increase the overall energy production from renewable sources. Energy production from wind and solar were at record highs in 2016.
The electric power sector generates most of the electricity in the United States, and the other four sectors consume most of that electricity.
The pattern of fuel use varies widely by sector. For example, petroleum provides about 92% of the energy used for transportation, but only 1% of the energy used to generate electricity.
Domestic energy production is equal to about 91% of U.S. energy consumption
In 2016, energy produced in the United States was equal to about 83.9 quadrillion Btu, which was equal to about 86% of U.S. energy consumption. The difference between production and consumption was mainly in net imports of petroleum.
The three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—accounted for most of the nation's energy production in 2016:
The mix of U.S. energy production changes
The three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—have dominated the U.S. energy mix for more than 100 years. Several recent changes in U.S. energy production have occurred: