U.S. energy production and consumption

Key Concepts

  • For the first time since 1953, the United States in 2020 is expected to produce more energy than it consumes, largely as a result of increased fossil fuel production and relatively flat domestic consumption. But this does not mean the nation is “energy independent”. Among other imbalances, much U.S.-produced oil is of a different type than the kind we mostly consume but is desired by other countries that produce the kind of oil we want, so imports and exports remain important.
  • The United States has been a net exporter of natural gas since 2017 and is anticipated to be a net exporter of petroleum and related liquids in 2020 for the first time in decades. U.S. consumption of petroleum and related liquids peaked in 2004.
  • In the United States, fossil fuels—including oil, natural gas, and coal—account for about 80% of the energy consumed and more than 90% of all the CO2 produced by human activities. The majority of that energy consumption is for transportation (primarily cars and trucks burning gasoline) and for generating electricity (primarily burning natural gas and coal).
  • Fossil fuels are the primary means of producing electricity in the United States. Natural gas (38%) and coal (24%) are the major fuels for generating electricity. Other major sources are nuclear power (20%) and renewables including hydropower (7%), wind (7%) and solar (2%).
  • Coal is the biggest CO2 emitter among power plants. Among U.S. electricity-producing plants powered by fossil fuels, coal-fired plants produce about 44% of the electricity but 65% of the U.S. energy-plant-produced CO2, while natural gas-powered plants generate about 55% of the power but only 33% of the CO2.

A Few Facts to Know

  • Some projections by the independent U.S. Energy Information Agency:
    • U.S. energy consumption will remain relatively flat in the years ahead, with increased efficiency balancing out the demands from economic growth.
    • Technological advances have significantly lowered the costs of solar photovoltaics in recent years, helping to drive an increase in solar’s share of energy output; the extent to which such cost-reducing advances will continue is highly uncertain.
    • Wind power’s share is expected to level off after the mid-2020s, due to a lack of expected cost-reducing technological improvements.
    • No new nuclear power plants are expected to be built in the United States after 2022. The retirement of older plants will reduce nuclear’s share of the U.S. energy portfolio through 2050.
    • The growth in natural gas output is expected to slow gradually after 2020.
    • The share of U.S. energy production from nuclear and coal are expected to continue to decline.
    • The share of U.S. energy production from biofuels is expected to depend largely on whether oil prices go up or not; in scenarios where oil prices rise, demand for biofuels increases.

SciLine generated this summary based on a presentation made on August 5, 2019, as part of our Science Essentials for Political Reporters boot camp. It is not intended to be comprehensive; it conveys the key points and major takeaways for reporters from that presentation.

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