See How U.S. Energy Consumption Has Changed Since 1776

03 July 2017

Fossil fuels have provided more than 80% of total U.S. energy consumption for more than 100 years, according to the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Since 1928, when consumption of natural gas surpassed that of biomass, the three fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—have been the most consumed fuels in the United States.

Credit: EIACredit: EIAIn 2016, fossil fuels accounted for 81% of total U.S. energy consumption, the lowest fossil fuel share in the past century.

In 2016, the renewable share of energy consumption in the United States was 10.5%. This was the largest renewable share since the 1930s, when overall energy consumption was lower and the amount of biomass consumption (mainly wood) was relatively high.

The greatest growth in renewables over the past decade has been in solar and wind electricity generation. Liquid biofuel consumption—more than half of which is ethanol blended into motor gasoline—has also increased in recent years, contributing to the growing renewable share of total energy consumption.

In addition to the increasing share of renewables, the decline in the fossil fuel share of consumption is attributable mainly to declines in coal consumption. U.S. coal consumption fell nearly 9% in 2016, following a 14% drop in 2015.

Overall, U.S. coal consumption has declined almost 38% since 2005. In each of the past 20 years, the power sector has accounted for more than 90% of total U.S. coal consumption.

Petroleum, which encompasses nearly all transportation fuels and several petroleum-based fuels used in homes, businesses, and industries, continues to be the largest source of energy consumption in the United Statesa, EIA says. Petroleum consumption has increased in each of the past four years.

Consumption of natural gas has risen in 9 of the past 10 years. As recently as 2006, the United States consumed more coal than natural gas (in energy-equivalent terms), but as natural gas consumption has increased—particularly in the electric power sector—natural gas use in 2016 was about twice that of coal.

To contact the author of this article, email

Powered by CR4, the Engineering Community

Discussion – 5 comments

By posting a comment you confirm that you have read and accept our Posting Rules and Terms of Use.
Re: See How U.S. Energy Consumption Has Changed Since 1776
2017-Jul-04 1:41 PM

Is the past prologue? I have to say I don't think so in this case. There will be advances, and have been in energy utilization that will change this chart in more ways than one.

I envision biomass (especially from algae culture) to rise once again to a higher level, but not perhaps as pervasive, or surpassing natural gas.

We will eventually get the energy cycle down to a point where renewables take over, and various means of energy storage provide load leveling needed.

Transportation needs will be met in the short term by liquid transportable hydrocarbons, but who knows when or it we could do just as well using silanes, for example. Primed to enter the world stage is the IFbattery, and this will beat Li+ ion out of the market.

Re: See How U.S. Energy Consumption Has Changed Since 1776
2017-Jul-08 1:19 PM

I think the curves would be much more informative if they were graphed as energy consumption per capita instead of total energy consumption. Then we could really see the differences.


Re: See How U.S. Energy Consumption Has Changed Since 1776
In reply to #2
2017-Jul-10 10:48 AM

True that.

Re: See How U.S. Energy Consumption Has Changed Since 1776
In reply to #3
2017-Jul-10 10:53 AM

Alternative is to graph the consumption on a log scale, which would help compress the curve into a more easily read form. How about it OP?


Re: See How U.S. Energy Consumption Has Changed Since 1776
In reply to #4
2017-Jul-10 11:08 AM

we should be so lucky as to hear back from OP.

Engineering Newsletter Signup
Get the Engineering360
Stay up to date on:
Our flagship newsletter covers all the technologies engineers need for new product development across disciplines and industries.

Upcoming Events