Sources Of Energy In The U.S., Since 1776

Throughout the history of the United States, energy consumption patterns have changed significantly as new power sources have been developed—and as uses of energy has changed. In recognition of this year’s July 4 holiday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) looks at how energy consumption, by fuel source, has changed since 1776.4thofjuly

From the EIA:
A typical American family from the time our country was founded used wood (a renewable energy source) as its primary energy source until the mid- to late-1800s. Early industrial growth was powered by water mills. Coal became dominant in the late 19th century before being overtaken by petroleum products in the middle of the last century, a time when natural gas usage also rose quickly.

Source: U.S. EIA, AER Energy Perspectives, and MER

Since the mid 20th century, use of coal has again increased (mainly as a primary energy source for electric power generation), and a new form of energy—nuclear electric power—emerged. After a pause in the 1970s, the use of petroleum and natural gas resumed growth, and the overall pattern of energy use since the late 20th century has remained fairly stable.

While the overall energy history of the United States is one of significant change as new forms of energy were developed, the three major fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal, which together provided 87% of total U.S. primary energy over the past decade—have dominated the U.S. fuel mix for well over 100 years. Recent increases in the domestic production of petroleum liquids and natural gas have prompted shifts between the uses of fossil fuels (largely from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power generation), but the predominance of these three energy sources is likely to continue into the future.

The EIA 2013 Outlook, To 2040
EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2013 (AEO2013) Reference case, which assumes continuation of current laws, regulations, and policies, projects continued significant reliance on the three major fossil fuels through at least 2040, when they still supply more than three-quarters of the nation’s overall primary energy consumption. This Outlook document is available for download at the EIA website. Key results highlighted in the AEO2013 Reference and alternative cases include:

  • Continued strong growth in domestic crude oil production over the next decade—largely as a result of rising production from tight formations—and increased domestic production of natural gas;
  • The potential for even stronger growth in domestic crude oil production under alternative conditions;
  • Evolving natural gas markets that spur increased use of natural gas for electric power generation and transportation and an expanding natural gas export market;
  • A decline in motor gasoline consumption over the projection period, reflecting the effects of more stringent corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards, as well as growth in diesel fuel consumption and increased use of natural gas to power heavy-duty vehicles; and
  • Low electricity demand growth, and continued increases in electricity generation capacity fueled by natural gas and renewable energy, which when combined with environmental regulations put pressure on coal use in the electric power sector. In some cases, coal’s share of total electricity generation falls below the natural gas share through the end of the projection period.