By Allan McFarland
This article was published by the US Energy Information Administration on June 4, 2021.
The United States EIA recently updated its US energy consumption by source and sector chart with 2020 data. All sources for US energy consumption totalled 92.9 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) in 2020, a record 7 per cent decrease from 2019. Consumption decreased for all fuels compared with 2019 except renewable energy, which increased by 2 per cent. Petroleum consumption decreased 13 per cent, natural gas decreased 2 per cent, coal decreased 19 per cent, and nuclear electric power decreased 2 per cent.
The EIA converts sources of energy to common units of heat, called British thermal units (Btu), to compare different types of energy that are usually measured in units that are not directly comparable, such as gallons of biofuels compared with kilowatthours of wind energy.
A fossil fuel equivalence is used to calculate primary energy consumption of noncombustible renewables (wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal), which are not burned to generate electricity and therefore do not have an inherent Btu conversion rate. In this approach, the EIA converts the noncombustible renewables from kilowatthours to Btu using the annual weighted-average Btu conversion rate for all fossil fuels burned to generate electricity in the United States during that year to estimate the amount of fossil energy replaced by these renewable sources.
The fossil fuel equivalency approach reports noncombustible renewables’ contribution to total primary energy, in part, because the resulting shares of primary energy are closer to the shares of generated electricity. This calculation also represents the energy that would have been consumed if the electricity from renewable sources had instead been generated by a mix of fossil fuels.
Note: Electric power sector data include electrical system energy losses.
The transportation sector typically accounts for about 70 per cent of US petroleum consumption, and the industrial sector accounts for most of the rest. In 2020, US petroleum consumption for transportation fell by 16 per cent, or more than 4 quads, from 2019 levels. Petroleum consumption fell less than 1 quad each in the industrial, residential, and commercial sectors.
The share of natural gas consumed by the electric power sector in the United States has grown over time. In 2000, the electricity sector accounted for 22 per cent of US natural gas consumption; by 2020, that share had risen to 38 per cent. Natural gas consumption in the residential and commercial sectors fluctuates with weather conditions because its main direct use in those sectors is for heating.
The electric power sector has typically accounted for one-half or more of US renewable energy consumption since the 1960s. In 2020, the sector consumed 60 per cent of all renewable energy used in the nation, a level last reached in 1998. The industrial sector’s share of US renewable consumption has fallen from about 30 per cent to 20 per cent in the last 15 years. In that time, the transportation sector’s share has grown to more than 10 per cent, mostly because of increased fuel ethanol consumption. US residential and commercial sectors consistently account for less than 10 per cent of combined US renewable consumption.
The electric power sector consistently accounts for about 90 per cent of US coal consumption, and the industrial sector accounts for most of the rest. Overall, in 2020, consumption of energy by the US electric power sector declined by 3 per cent.
In 2020, US energy consumption decreased in all four end-use sectors after accounting for electrical system energy losses. Transportation sector consumption fell 14 per cent from 2019 levels, the industrial sector declined by 4 per cent, the residential sector by 3 per cent, and the commercial sector by 7 per cent. Industrial sector consumption exceeded transportation sector consumption for the first time since 1999 after accounting for energy losses.