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Use of energy explained  

How the United States uses energy

Many sources of energy are used in homes, businesses, industry, and power plants and to travel and transport goods. These energy sources are used by five main energy use sectors:

  • The residential sector includes homes and apartments.
  • The commercial sector includes offices, malls, stores, schools, hospitals, hotels, warehouses, restaurants, and places of worship and public assembly.
  • The industrial sector includes facilities and equipment used for manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and construction.
  • The transportation sector includes vehicles that transport people or goods, such as cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, trains, aircraft, boats, barges, and ships.
  • The electric power sector, whose primary business is to generate electricity and heat for sale to the other energy use sectors.

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The electric power sector uses primary energy sources to generate electricity for sale to four U.S. end-use sectors—residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation— and to Canada and Mexico. The four end-use sectors also consume primary energy, and they purchase and use most of the electricity the electric power sector generates and sells. The end-use sectors also produce electricity for their own use, which in the industrial and commercial sectors is called direct use.

Total energy consumption by the end-use sectors includes their primary energy use, electricity sold by and purchased from the electric power sector, and electrical system energy losses (energy conversion and other losses associated with the generation, transmission, and distribution of purchased electricity). Total electrical system energy losses are apportioned to each end-use sector according to each sector's share of total annual electricity sales.

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Total U.S. energy consumption was the highest on record in 2018 at about 101 quadrillion British thermal units (quads). Consumption decreased in 2019, largely because of relatively mild winter weather in most regions of the country. In 2020, U.S. energy use declined about 7.5% from 2019 primarily because of economic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that began in the United States during the spring of 2020. Before 2020, the largest recorded annual decrease in U.S. energy consumption occurred between 2008 and 2009, when consumption decreased by about 4.9% during the economic recession. Other large annual decreases in U.S. energy consumption occurred during economic recessions in the early 1980s and in 2001.

In 2022, total U.S. energy consumption was about 100 quads, about a 2.6% increase from 2021 as the economy continued to recover from the effects of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Total energy use by each of the end-use sectors increased in 2022, but the commercial and industrial sectors experienced the largest annual increases in total energy consumption of about 4.2% and 3.9%, respectively.

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Total U.S. energy consumption has increased, but energy consumption per capita has decreased

Although total annual U.S. energy consumption has trended upward over time and the U.S. population has increased, the amount of energy consumption per capita (per person) peaked in the late 1970s. Annual per capita energy consumption was relatively flat from the late-1980s through 2000 and has generally decreased each year since then. In 2020, U.S. per capita energy consumption dropped to the lowest level since 1965, mainly because of economic responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2022, per capita energy consumption was about 7% greater than in 2020 and about 2% higher than in 2021.

Factors contributing to lower U.S. per capita energy consumption since the 1980s include:

  • Increases in efficiency of appliances, electrical equipment, and building insulation largely resulting from establishing energy efficiency standards and improving building energy codes
  • Increases in the average fuel efficiency of vehicles resulting from establishing Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards
  • Availability of financial incentives for energy efficiency investments
  • Increases in utility-scale electricity generation using higher efficiency natural gas-fired, combined-cycle and combined-heat-and-power generators
  • Reduction in the energy-intensive production of metals and other manufacturing
  • Increases in population in warmer climate regions of the country greater than population increases in colder climate regions, resulting in lower heating energy consumption and lower total residential and commercial sector energy use

U.S. energy consumption per dollar of GDP declined nearly every year since 1949

Along with per capita energy consumption, another measure of the intensity of energy consumption is how efficiently the economy uses energy to produce every dollar of gross domestic product (GDP). The amount of U.S. energy consumption per real 2012 dollar of GDP—the adjusted value to account for changes in the value of the U.S. dollar—declined in most years from 1949 through 2021. In 2022, energy use per dollar of GDP was 0.6% higher than in 2021. Although growth of U.S. energy consumption is closely tied to growth in GDP and other economic factors, it is partially offset by improvements in energy efficiency and other changes in the economy that result in lower energy use per unit of economic output. Many of the factors that contribute to lower per capita energy consumption also contribute to lower energy consumption per dollar of GDP.

Last updated: July 5, 2023, with data from the Monthly Energy Review, April 2023; data for 2022 are preliminary.