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The United States relies on a complex mix of energy sources to fuel the energy consumption of the various end sectors in the country.

Although this energy mix is ​​still dominated by fossil fuels, there are signs of a steady shift towards renewables over the past decade.

This Sankey radial diagram using data from the EIA (Energy Information Administration) breaks down America’s energy use in 2020, showing us how dependent each sector is on various energy sources.

The balance sheet of energy production and consumption

In 2019 and now in 2020, the United States’ domestic energy production has actually exceeded its consumption, a development that has not taken place since 1957.

Last year’s figures were severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a 5% drop in energy production and a 7% drop in consumption compared to 2019. Production and consumption Energy totals for 2020 were 95.75 and 92.94 quads, respectively.

Amounts of energy are equalized and measured in quadrillion BTUs (British thermal units), also known as quads. A quad is a huge amount of energy, equivalent to 183 million barrels of oil or 36 million tonnes of coal.

So how is America’s overall energy production and consumption distributed across energy sources?

Share of U.S. Energy Production and Consumption by Source

Energy source Percentage of energy production in the United States Percentage of US energy consumption
Oil 32% 35%
Natural gas 36% 34%
Renewable energy 12% 12%
Coal 11% ten%
Nuclear 9% 9%

Source: OUCH

America’s new margin of energy production to consumption has made the country a total net energy exporter, providing flexibility as the country continues to transition to more sustainable and renewable sources of energy.

Fossil fuels still dominate energy use in the United States

While America’s energy use mix is ​​quite diverse, 79% of home energy use still comes from fossil fuels. Petroleum supplies more than 90% of the consumption of the transport sector, and natural gas and petroleum represent 74% of the direct energy consumption of the industrial sector.

There are signs of a change as consumption of the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal, has declined by more than 58% since its peak in 2005. Coinciding with this decline in reliance on coal, the consumption of renewable energy has increased. increased for six consecutive years, again setting records in 2020.

However, fossil fuels still account for 79% of US energy use, with renewables and nuclear making up the remaining 21%. The table below examines the share of specific renewable energy sources in 2020.

Distribution of renewable energy sources

Renewable energy source 2020 energy consumption in quads Share of renewable energy consumption in 2020
Biomass 4.52 39%
Wind 3.01 26%
Hydroelectric 2.55 22%
Solar 1.27 11%
Geothermal 0.23 2%

Source: OUCH

The nuclear need for a zero-emission energy transition

It is not just for renewable energy sources to clean up America’s energy mix, as nuclear power will play a critical role in reducing carbon emissions. Technically not a renewable energy source due to the finite nature of uranium, nuclear power is still zero-emission energy that has provided approximately 20% of the United States’ total annual electricity since 1990.

Support for nuclear power has grown slowly, and last year was the first to see nuclear power generation overtake coal. However, that might not last as three nuclear power plants, including the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York, are expected to be downgraded in 2021, with a fourth plant slated for retirement in 2022.

It should be noted that while other countries might have a higher share of nuclear power in their total electricity generation, the United States still has the largest nuclear generation capacity in the world and has generated more electricity. nuclear power than any other country in the world.

Convert energy to electricity

The energy produced by nuclear power plants does not go directly to its end-use sector, but 100% of nuclear energy in the United States is converted into electricity which is sold to consumers. Besides nuclear, most energy sources other than petroleum are mainly converted into electricity.

Unfortunately, the conversion of electricity is a fairly inefficient process, with around 65% of the energy lost in the conversion, transmission and distribution of electricity.

This necessary but expensive step allows the energy to be stored in electrical form, thus guaranteeing its good distribution. Working towards more efficient methods of converting energy into electricity is an often overlooked aspect of reducing energy waste.

Despite the decline in 2020, energy production and consumption in the United States is expected to continue to increase. While Biden aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 (from 2005 emission levels), U.S. energy use will inevitably continue to move away from fossil fuels and into turn to renewable and nuclear energies.

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