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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 3.82 trillion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2017

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 2017 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 2017, retail sales of electricity were about 3.68 trillion kWh or 96% of total electricity consumption. Direct use of electricity by all end-use sectors was about 0.14 trillion kWh or 4% of total electricity consumption.

The sales of electricity to major consuming sectors and percent share of total electricity sales in 2017 were

  • Residential—1.38 trillion kWh—37.4%
  • Commercial—1.35 trillion kWh—36.6%
  • Industrial—0.95 trillion kWh—25.7%
  • Transportation—0.01 trillion kWh—0.2% (mostly to public transit systems)

Cooling accounts for the largest share of annual U.S. residential sector electricity consumption

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that electricity use by fans and air conditioning equipment for space cooling was the single largest use of electricity by the U.S. residential sector in 2017. 1 The major uses and their share of total residential sector electricity use in 2017 were

  • Cooling/air conditioning—15.4%
  • Water heating—9.5%
  • Lighting—9.4%
  • Refrigeration—7.2%
  • Space heating—6.2%
  • Televisions and related electronic equipment—5.9%
  • Clothes dryers—4.1%
  • Cooking—2.3%
  • Heating equipment fans and pumps—2.2%
  • Computers and related equipment—2.2%
  • Dishwashers—2.0%
  • Freezers—1.6%
  • Clothes washers (excludes water heating)—0.5%
  • Other miscellaneous uses—31.3%

The other miscellaneous uses in the list above include the many, mostly small, electrical appliances in U.S. houses, apartments, and related property.

Refrigeration accounts for the largest share of annual electricity use by the U.S. commercial sector

EIA estimates that in 2017, refrigeration was the largest single use of electricity in the commercial sector.2 The commercial sector includes retail, office, education, institutional, public, and government facilities, and public services such as water supply, sewage treatment, telecommunications equipment, and outdoor and public street lighting. The major uses and their share of total electricity use by the commercial sector in 2017 were

  • Refrigeration—14.0%
  • Ventilation—11.2%
  • Lighting—10.6%
  • Space cooling—10.6%
  • Office equipment —7.8%
  • Computers and related equipment—7.5%
  • Space heating—2.6%
  • Cooking—1.8%
  • Water heating—0.6
  • Other miscellaneous uses combined—33.3%

Other miscellaneous uses in the list above include the numerous, mostly small, electrical appliances in U.S. homes, apartments, and related property.

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

In 2014, nearly half of electricity used by U.S. manufacturers was for operating machinery.3 The major uses and their share of total electricity use by the commercial sector in 2014 were

  • Machine drives (motors)—48.2%
  • Process heating and boiler use—14.4%
  • Facility heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and cooling—9.5%
  • Electrochemical processes—6.8%
  • Process cooling and refrigeration—7.3%
  • Lighting—6.5%
  • Other miscellaneous processes and facility uses—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, there were year-over-year declines in six of the years from 2007 through 2017, with the largest year-over-year drop (about 4%) occurring in 2009. One contributing factor to that drop in electricity consumption was the economic downturn in late 2007 through 2009, which led to a large decrease in electricity sales to the industrial sector. Other factors, such as efficiency improvements associated with new appliance standards in 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 2018 Reference case, total U.S. electricity use grows by an average of less than 1% per year from 2017 to 2050.

World electricity use may grow fastest in non-OECD countries

The member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) consumed about 45% of the world's total electricity supply in 2015. In the International Energy Outlook 2017, OECD nations' share of world electricity use is projected to be 37% in 2050.

1 Annual Energy Outlook 2018, Table 4, February 2018.
2 Annual Energy Outlook 2018, Table 5, February 2018.
3 Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey 2014, Table 5.1, October 2017.