American energy use went
back up in 2010 compared to 2009, when consumption was at a 12-year low. The United States
used more fossil fuels in 2010 than in 2009, while renewable electricity
remained approximately constant, with an increase in wind power offset by a
modest decline in hydroelectricity. There also was a significant increase in
biomass consumption, according to the most recent energy flow charts released
by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Wind power jumped from
.70 quadrillion BTU, or quads, in 2009 to .92 quads in 2010.. Most of that
energy is tied directly to electricity generation and thus helps decrease the
use of coal for electricity production. Biomass energy consumption rose from
3.88 quads to 4.29 quads. That increase was driven by ethanol use as a
transportation fuel and a feedstock for industrial production. (The apparent
decline in geothermal energy use is due to an accounting change by the Energy
“We are still
seeing the capacity additions from a wind energy boom come online,” says.
A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst who develops the flow charts using
data provided by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration.
“And renewable fuel mandates are driving the consumption of ethanol by
cars and trucks.”
Overall, U.S. energy use
in 2010 equaled 98 quads compared to the 94.6 quads used in 2009. Most of the
energy was tied to coal, natural gas, and petroleum.
Energy use in the
residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation arenas all rose as
The majority of energy
use in 2010 was used for electricity generation (39.49 quads), followed by
transportation, industrial, residential, and commercial consumption. “This
is just a snapshot of how the energy system was used,” Simon says.
“Although it doesn’t appear to change much from year-to-year, even small
shifts can have big consequences for certain sectors of our economy.”
As in previous years,
coal was the major player in producing electricity, with nuclear and natural
gas coming in second and third, respectively. But natural gas consumption by
the electric sector grew 0.5 quads this year, driven by consistently low
natural gas prices. Over the past six years, gas use in the electric sector has
Petroleum fuels continue
to dominate the transportation sector.
Though carbon emissions
in 2010 were higher than they were in 2009, Americans’ carbon footprint has
decreased over the past few years. The U.S. emitted 5,632 million metric
tons of carbon dioxide in 2010, up from 5,428 in 2009, but down from the all
time high of 6,022 in 2007. The decrease is due primarily to reduced energy
consumption, but aided by a shift from coal to natural gas in the electric
sector and adoption of renewable energy resources.
One metric ton of carbon
dioxide emissions is equivalent to 37.8 propane cylinders used for home
barbecues or 2.1 barrels of oil consumed, according to the U.S. Environmental