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Today in Energy

June 10, 2019

Almost all U.S. coal production is consumed for electric power

U.S. coal flow
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review
Note: Click for full U.S. coal flow 2018 diagram.

Coal is one of the main sources of energy in the United States, accounting for 16% of its primary energy production in 2018 according to EIA’s Monthly Energy Review. Nearly all of the coal consumed in the United States is produced domestically, and most is consumed by the electric power sector to generate electricity, while some is exported. EIA’s U.S. coal flow diagram helps to visualize the overall view of U.S. coal energy from supply (production, imports, and stock withdrawals) to disposition (consumption, exports, and losses).

In 2018, of the more than 755 million short tons (MMst) of coal produced in the United States, the electric power sector consumed 636 MMst. The industrial sector consumed nearly 50 MMst, and the United States exported another 115 MMst.

U.S. coal production, consumption, and net exports
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

U.S. coal production and consumption have both declined since their peaks of 1,172 MMst in 2008 and 1,128 MMst in 2007, respectively. In 2018, coal production reached 756 MMst, the second-lowest level since 1978, and coal consumption fell to 687 MMst, the lowest since 1978.

Most of the coal produced in the United States is bituminous or subbituminous. Coal is classified into different types, or ranks, based on the amount of carbon it contains and how much heat energy it produces when combusted. Bituminous coal, which accounted for an estimated 47% of total U.S. coal production in 2018, ranges from 45% to 86% carbon and is produced in states such as West Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Indiana.

Subbituminous coal, which accounted for an estimated 45% of production in 2018, ranges from 35% to 45% carbon, has a lower heating value than bituminous coal, and is mostly produced in Wyoming. Smaller amounts of lower-energy lignite (25% to 35% carbon) and higher-energy anthracite (86% to 97% carbon) coal are also produced in the United States.

Not all coal produced in the United States is consumed domestically. Coal production typically exceeds consumption, and the United States has been a net exporter of coal since 1949, the earliest year of EIA’s coal trade data series. In 2018, U.S. exports of coal totaled about 116 MMst, the highest level since 2013. Less than 1% of total U.S. coal consumption was imported from other countries in 2018.

U.S. coal consumption by sector
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Since 1961, the electric power sector has been the largest consumer of coal in the United States, surpassing the industrial sector. The electric power sector used about 93% of coal consumed in the United States in 2018 to generate electricity and useful thermal output (heat). Most of the remaining U.S. coal is used directly by the industrial sector, such as in the industries that produce coal coke, concrete, paper, and steel. Relatively little coal is consumed directly in the commercial, residential, and transportation sectors.

Coal data can be found in various EIA sources, including

Principal contributors: Mickey Francis, Andrew York-Thomson