The United States uses a mix of energy sources
The United States uses and produces many different types and sources of energy, which can be grouped into general categories such as primary and secondary, renewable and nonrenewable, and fossil fuels.
Primary energy sources include fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal), nuclear energy, and renewable sources of energy. Electricity is a secondary energy source that is generated (produced) 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 2020, total U.S. primary energy consumption was equal to about 92,943,042,000,000,000 Btu, or about 93 quadrillion Btu.
- There are five energy-use sectors, and the amounts—in quadrillion Btu (or quads)—of their primary energy consumption in 2020 were:
- electric power35.74quads
In 2020, the electric power sector accounted for about 96% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation, nearly all of which was sold to the other sectors.1
The transportation, industrial, commercial, and residential sectors are called end-use sectors because they consume primary energy and electricity produced by the electric power sector.
- Primary energy use plus the energy content of electricity purchased from the electric power sector by each end-use sector in 2020 was:
Total energy consumption by the end-use sectors includes their primary energy use, purchased electricity, and electrical system energy losses (energy conversion and other losses associated with the generation, transmission, and distribution of purchased electricity) and other energy losses.
The sources of energy used by each sector vary widely. For example, in 2020, petroleum provided approximately 90% of the transportation sector's energy consumption, but only 1% of the electric power sector's primary energy use. The chart below shows the types and amounts of primary energy sources consumed in the United States, the amounts of primary energy used by the electric power sector and the energy end-use sectors, and the retail sales of electricity by the electric power sector to the energy end-use sectors.
The chart below shows annual primary energy consumption from 1950 through 2020.
Domestic energy production was greater than U.S. energy consumption in 2019 and 2020
After record-high U.S. energy production and consumption in 2018, energy production grew by nearly 6% in 2019 while energy consumption decreased by about 1%, with production exceeding consumption on an annual basis for the first time since 1957. Total energy production declined by about 5% in 2020 but was still about 3% greater than consumption: production equaled 95.75 quads and consumption equaled 92.94 quads.
Fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—accounted for about 79% of total U.S. primary energy production in 2020.
- The percentage shares and amounts (in quads) of total U.S. primary energy production by major sources in 2020 were:
- Natural gas36%34.68 quads
- Petroleum (crude oil and natural gas plant liquids)32%30.35 quads
- coal11%10.69 quads
- Renewable energy12%11.78 quads
- Nuclear electric power9%8.25 quads
The mix of U.S. energy consumption and production has changed over time
Fossil fuels have dominated the U.S. energy mix for more than 100 years, but the mix has changed over time.
Coal consumption in the United States peaked in 2007 at about 1.13 billion short tons and coal production peaked in 2008 at about 1.17 billion short tons. Both declined in nearly every year since those peak years mainly because of less U.S. coal demand for electricity generation. In terms of the total energy content of coal, annual U.S. coal consumption peaked in 2005 at about 22.80 quads and production peaked in 1998 at about 24.0 quads. The energy content of total annual coal consumption and production generally declined since those years because of decreases in demand for coal, and because of increases in the share of lower heat content coal use by the electric power sector. In 2020, coal consumption was about 477 million short tons, equal to about 9.18 quads and the lowest percentage share of total U.S. energy consumption since at least 1949. Coal production in 2020 was 534 million short tons—the lowest amount since 1965—and equal to about 10.69 quads.
Natural gas production (dry gas) reached a record high of 33.97 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) or 93.06 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/day) in 2019. Dry natural gas production was about 2% lower in 2020 at about 33.44 Tcf (91.36 Bcf/day) and equal to about 34.68 quads. Natural gas consumption in 2020 was about 83.28 Bcf/day, equal to 31.54 quads and 34% of total U.S. energy consumption. U.S. annual dry natural gas production has exceeded U.S. annual natural gas consumption in both volume and heat content since 2017. More efficient drilling and production techniques have resulted in increases in natural gas production from shale and tight geologic formations. The production increases contributed to a decline in natural gas prices, which in turn has contributed to increases in natural gas use by the electric power and industrial sectors.
Annual crude oil production generally decreased between 1970 and 2008. In 2009, the trend reversed and production began to rise, and in 2019, U.S. crude oil production reached a record high of 12.25 million barrels per day. More cost-effective drilling and production technologies helped to drive the production increases, especially in Texas and North Dakota. U.S. crude oil production declined to about 11.31 million barrels per day in 2020. A large drop in U.S. petroleum demand in March and April 2020 as a result of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a decrease in U.S. oil production.
Natural gas plant liquids (NGPLs) are extracted from natural gas before the natural gas is put into pipelines for transmission to consumers. Annual NGPLs production has generally increased since 2005, coinciding with increases in natural gas production, and reached a record high of 5.16 million barrels per day in 2020. NGPLs are the largest source of U.S. hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGLs) production. Annual increases in HGLs production since 2008 have contributed to lower HGLs prices and to increased U.S. HGLs consumption (and exports).
Nuclear energy production in commercial nuclear power plants in the United States began in 1957, grew each year through 1990, and generally leveled off after 2000. Even though there were fewer operating nuclear reactors in 2020 than in 2000, the amount of nuclear energy production in 2020 was 790 billion kilowatthours (kWh)—or 8.25 quads—the second-highest on record behind 2019. A combination of increased capacity from power plant upgrades and shorter refueling and maintenance cycles have helped to compensate for reductions in the numbers of nuclear reactors and maintain a relatively consistent level of annual U.S. nuclear electricity generation for the past 20 years.
Renewable energy production and consumption both reached record highs of about 11.77 and 11.59 quads, respectively, in 2020, driven mainly by record-high solar and wind energy production. Hydroelectric power production in 2020 was about 1% higher than in 2019 but about 9% lower than the 50-year average. Total biomass production and consumption in 2020 were both 10% lower than highest levels recorded in 2018. Geothermal energy use in 2020 was nearly the same as the highest annual level of geothermal energy production and consumption recorded in 2014.
1Utility-scale electricity generation includes generation from power plants with at least one megawatt of electric generation capacity. The industrial and commercial sectors produced about 4% of utility-scale electricity generation in 2020. There are estimates for distributed (small-scale) solar electricity generation in Monthly Energy Review Table 10.6. A small amount of electricity is imported from and exported to Canada and Mexico.
Last updated: May 14, 2021