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Surprising Facts About U.S. Energy Consumption

It is easy, with all that we hear about the rise of alternative energy in the U.S., to lose sight of one basic fact: In terms of real everyday energy consumption in the U.S., fossil fuels still rule. In fact, so far in 2014, over 90 percent of energy consumption in America has been supplied by oil, natural gas or coal.

According to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) numbers, non-fossil fuel energy accounted for about 9.25 percent of total American energy use in 2013. That in and of itself is probably surprising to many people, but if you dig a little deeper into the numbers, other surprising facts emerge.

Below is the year-to-date U.S. energy consumption by source, as of June 23.

year-to-date U.S. energy consumption  
Source: Oilprice Widgets

The problem, you see, is that we are all inclined to judge the relevance of something by the amount of media coverage it receives. On that basis, renewable energy is simply huge! Whole oceans of ink and countless electrons around the Internet have been used up talking about the rise of wind and solar power. Naturally we assume that they are currently leading the way and transforming energy consumption in America. Well, you know what they say about assumptions…

Related Article: The World’s Top Polluters And What They’re Doing About It

Even within the 8.75 percent of consumption that renewable sources account for, neither wind nor solar power are particularly significant.

Nuclear power comes in fourth behind the big three and accounts for as much production as every other renewable energy source combined; wind and solar, on the other hand, together account for 1.39 percent of supply.

Solar alone supplies less than one-tenth of one percent of the total. I don’t have exact numbers, but I would bet whatever I could lay my hands on that it accounts for a higher percentage of energy-related media coverage than that.

It’s not that solar and other alternative energy sources aren’t going to be extremely important in the future. It’s just that the future is not here yet. The big three; oil, natural gas, and coal still dominate. Within those three, things are shifting quite rapidly. Coal is losing ground and natural gas usage is increasing. Energy usage, particularly for electricity generation, is clearly cleaner than in the past and that trend is likely to continue, but anybody who tries to tell you that we are close to the end for companies with a focus on traditional energy sources is way off the mark.

Of course coal, oil and gas are finite and it is only logical that a shift to renewable energy is coming. The numbers show that that is happening, but it is still a long way off.

All of this leaves the U.S. with two obvious implications for energy investors. Firstly, don’t give up yet on oil and gas producers; they are still expanding to meet growing demand and will continue to do so in the near future. Secondly, if you look at certain solar or wind energy stocks and believe you have missed the boat, you are probably wrong. There is still a long way to go if either is to fulfill its potential.

Recent advances in cost control and the potential for an eventual solution to the problem of storing the energy generated from alternative sources mean that we may not be far from an acceleration of that process, but if we trust the data, rather than the impression that media coverage leaves us with, it is obvious that that has not yet begun.

By Martin Tillier of Oilprice.com

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Leave a comment
  • David Hrivnak on June 23 2014 said:
    The disruption has begun and ALL changes start small and people try to ignore the changes.

    I have heard it many times from "experts".

    The PC will never replace a mainframe.
    A brick of a cell phone with 20 min of talk time will never replace landlines.
    Digital cameras will never be as good as film.

    I could go on.

    But I now tell my friends and neighbors that my rooftop solar not only powers my house but covers two tanks of "fuel" in my electric car.

    Compared to my fossil fuel addiction of three years ago I am saving $3500 a year.
  • Randy on June 24 2014 said:
    "The problem, you see, is that we are all inclined to judge the relevance of something by the amount of media coverage it receives. On that basis, renewable energy is simply huge! Whole oceans of ink and countless electrons around the Internet have been used up talking about the rise of wind and solar power."

    Er, the problem really is,...you, media coverage on renewables notwithstanding. Massive amounts of misinformation, or oceans of ink as Mr. Tillier notes, is being pumped through the news media by people with a political agenda. Scary, isn't it? Mr. Tillier, to his surprise, recently came across the shocking truth. Solar energy, 1/10 of 1 %? Gasp! Mr Hrivnak, see above, still thinks he's doing the world a favor by plugging-in, never even considering the POWER PLANT at the other end of that plug, or the solar panels that DON'T work in the winter, and therefore those evil power companies MUST provide the SAME amount of electrical capacity to compensate. Er, just ask the Germans about that re-discovered concept. Insanity, complete insanity...
  • David Hrivnak on June 24 2014 said:
    Randy have you actually run through the numbers? Yes there is something at the other end of the plug with an EV and if it is mostly coal powered, one still see a 50% reduction in emissions compared to a gasoline powered car.

    Yes solar planels take energy to produce but but their lifecycle is positive and has a signifcantly better return on energy that fracked oil or tar sands oil.

    I am just saying there are alternatives now, viable electric cars and solar generation can and do work now.

    I did use grid electricity during the winter but enven in the depth of winter my solar panels still produced over half of the power we used. This time of year they produce more than enough.

    Yes is it much better for the environment but it is also good on the pocket book. Not sure about you but the $3500/year in "fuel" savings is noticable at our household.
  • Lee James on June 26 2014 said:
    This article tries to take a realistic look at our current energy supply. Today's energy menu is indeed high on non-renewable "fatty" hydrocarbon molecules.

    Another way to look at the supply mix is to recognize that much of current supply is made up of legacy power plants along with the momentum of business as usual.

    Much progress is being made in using renewable energy when a NEW addition to capacity is required. Wind power competes well with fossil fuel. Add in the cost of pollution to fossil fuel burning, and the way is clear. Next is solar.

    As for transportation, I see rapid progress as electrical storage and "extender" technology comes online.

    I look forward to getting off the high-fat menu.

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