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July 1, 2021

Nonfossil fuel sources accounted for 21% of U.S. energy consumption in 2020

Reposted July 2, 2021 to correct a figure label and minor text edits.

energy consumption in the United States
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Today in Energy would like to wish you a happy Fourth of July. New articles will resume on Tuesday, July 6.

Primary energy consumption totaled 93 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) in the United States in 2020, or 7 quads less than in 2019. Fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—accounted for 79% of total U.S. energy consumption in 2020. About 21% of U.S. energy consumption in 2020 came from nonfossil fuel sources such as renewables and nuclear—the highest share since the early 1900s, according to data in our Monthly Energy Review.

During 2020, responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and other economic factors significantly reduced energy use in the United States. The 7 quad decline in U.S. energy consumption last year was the largest annual decrease on record. Almost all of this decline came from less consumption of fossil fuels, especially petroleum used for transportation and coal used for electricity generation. In 2020, U.S. fossil fuel energy consumption, totaling 73 quads, was at its lowest level since 1991.

Among U.S. nonfossil fuel energy sources, renewable energy consumption increased slightly from 11.4 quads in 2019 to a record high of 11.6 quads in 2020. Increases in consumption of renewables used for electricity generation, including wind and solar energy, were partially offset by declines in biofuel consumption in the transportation sector. U.S. nuclear energy consumption totaled 8.2 quads in 2020, the lowest level since 2013.

Petroleum has been the most-consumed energy source in the United States since surpassing coal in 1950. U.S. petroleum consumption remains below its 2005 peak, and in 2020, it totaled 32.2 quads. U.S. natural gas consumption totaled 31.5 quads in 2020, a slight decline from the previous year but the second-highest level of natural gas consumption in the United States on record.

U.S. coal consumption fell to 9.2 quads in 2020, the lowest level in 116 years. U.S. coal consumption has fallen by more than half since its peak in 2005; reduced use in the electric power sector has driven much of this decline.

topographical map of U.S. energy consumption
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Monthly Energy Review

Our Monthly Energy Review's pre-1949 estimates of U.S. energy use are based on two sources: Sam Schurr and Bruce Netschert’s Energy in the American Economy, 1850–1975: Its History and Prospects and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Circular No. 641, Fuel Wood Used in the United States 1630–1930.

Appendix D of our Monthly Energy Review compiles these estimates of U.S. energy consumption in 10-year increments from 1635 through 1845 and 5-year increments from 1845 through 1945. Data for 1949 through the present day are available in the latest Monthly Energy Review.

Principal contributor: Owen Comstock