The energy intensity of U.S. manufacturing has continued to decrease, according to the latest data from the Energy Department's Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey (MECS).

From 2010 to 2014, manufacturing fuel consumption increased by 4.7 percent. Meanwhile, real gross output increased by 9.6 percent — or more than twice that rate — resulting in a 4.4 percentage point decrease in energy intensity.

Energy intensity continues to decline in manufacturing. Source:  EIAEnergy intensity continues to decline in manufacturing. Source: EIAThe latest MECS release provides manufacturing energy consumption, energy expenditures and other energy-related metrics based on data collected in 2015, which reflects activity in 2014. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has conducted the MECS survey eight times since the initial MECS survey in 1985. The 2014 MECS sample size of approximately 15,000 establishments was drawn from a sample frame representing 97 to 98 percent of the national manufacturing payroll.

The energy intensity decrease for total manufacturing is mostly the result of a shift of manufacturing output from energy-intensive industries — such as the manufacture of metals, chemicals, paper, and petroleum and coal products — to less energy-intensive industries. If major industries had maintained the same proportions of the manufacturing sector, the energy intensity decline between 2010 and 2014 would have been 0.7 percent instead of 4.4 percent, EIA says.

Transportation technology saw an increase in production that outpaced its energy use. Source: EIATransportation technology saw an increase in production that outpaced its energy use. Source: EIAOne of the fastest growing industries between 2010 and 2014 was transportation equipment manufacturing, an industry with relatively low energy intensity. Gross output in transportation equipment manufacturing grew 30.8 percent over that period. That was faster than the 9.6 percent increase in overall manufacturing output between 2010 and 2014.

While output and consumption rose, manufacturing employment fell from 2010 to 2014, yielding an increase in labor productivity. Manufacturing processes continue to evolve, incorporating more electronic and robotic devices, which may be a primary factor in increased labor productivity.

Natural gas increased its share of the energy mix as coal, coke, and fuel oil declined. Source: EIANatural gas increased its share of the energy mix as coal, coke, and fuel oil declined. Source: EIATotal energy in manufacturing includes both fuel and nonfuel uses, such as when natural gas is used as a feedstock for chemical manufacturing. Considering fuel use only, natural gas made up a larger share of manufacturing use. Fuels such as coal and coke, fuel oil and other petroleum liquids made up smaller shares. Natural gas consumption for manufacturing was 5.9 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2014. That was 39 percent of the total fuel use in manufacturing, compared with 37 percent in 2010.

On an economic basis, EIA says that natural gas has become more cost competitive with coal and requires lower expenditures per unit of energy than fuel oil or liquefied petroleum gases.