Expert Commentary

Energy in the United States: Overview and key statistics

2012 report from the Congressional Research Service on U.S. energy production and consumption, with breakdowns of production and consumption by sector.

Energy plays a central role in the U.S. economy, from transportation and manufacturing to agriculture, housing and beyond. The mix of power sources and uses are in constant flux, however, as indicated by a 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service, “U.S. Energy: Overview and Key Statistics.”

The report brings together information from a range of recent government documents, including the “March 2012: Monthly Energy Review,” from the Department of Energy; “Annual Energy Review, 2010,” from the Energy Information Administration; and “Light-Duty Automotive Technology, Carbon Dioxide Emissions, and Fuel Economy Trends,” from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report covers both the energy generation and consumption sides, with breakdowns of production by sector as well as industrial and consumer use of energy. Its findings include:

  • In 2010 the total U.S. energy consumption is estimated to have been 98 quadrillion BTUs. This represents nearly a three-fold increase from its level in 1950 (34.6 quadrillion BTUs), but slightly less than its high in 2007 (101.4).
  • While the U.S. population more than doubled from 1950 to 2010, rising from 152.3 million to an estimated 309.1 million, per-capita rates of energy consumption also rose significantly. Residential consumption increased from 39.3 million BTUs per person in 1950 to 71.7 per person in 2010, an 82% increase; transportation consumption climbed from 55.8 million BTUs per person in 1950 to 89.0 per person in 2010, a 59% rise.
  • Petroleum accounts for 40% of all U.S. energy consumption. In 2010 petroleum was predominantly used for transportation (70.5%), followed by industrial (22.9%), residential (5.7%) and electricity generation (0.9%) uses. (See “Petroleum and Its Role in the U.S. Economy” for more information.)
  • Consumption of coal has more than doubled since 1950, but its use and role with in the U.S. economy have changed significantly. Electrical generation consumed less than 20% of coal in 1950, but now constitutes 90% of the more than one billion tons consumed in 2011.
  • Natural gas currently supplies approximately 20% of U.S. energy needs, an increase from 17% in 1950 but a drop from the 30% it provided in 1970. By 2000 16% of total electric generation was gas-fired, rising to 25% by 2011.
  • While overall energy consumption in the United States nearly tripled since 1950, electricity consumption has grown even faster. In 1950 the U.S. consumed 334 billion kilowatt hours of electricity; by 2011 the figure had climbed to 4,120 billion kilowatt hours, a 1,134% increase. (See “Electrical Generation and Consumption in the United States” for additional specifics.)
  • Nuclear power currently generates approximately 20% of U.S. electricity. It reached this level in 1990 and since has remained steady, a consequence of nuclear power’s high capital costs, construction difficulties and safety concerns.
  • Hydropower generated 257 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2010, essentially steady since 1970. However, it is still by far the most important source of renewable energy, generating nearly two-thirds of the sector’s production.
  • Wind is the fastest-growing source of electrical generation in the United States. From 1999 to 2002, natural gas added 132 gigawatts of capacity while wind added 2.7, a ratio of 1 to 48. From 2003 to 2010, natural gas added only 93.6 gigawatts of new capacity (a 29% decline over the previous period’s additions), while wind added 33.2 gigawatts (a 1,130% increase), a ratio of 1 to 2.8. (See “Renewable Energy in the United States” for more information on wind, solar and hydropower.)

Related resource: The Energy Information Administration’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2011,” projects energy trends out to 2035.

Keywords: pollution, greenhouse gases, fossil fuels, coal, economy

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