According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, most Americans (77 percent) say it is more important for the US to create alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, than to produce more coal, oil and other fossil fuels. That raises the question: How does the U.S. fulfill its enormous needs for resources and how, if anything, has that changed?
The answer is complicated, as one might suspect. In the past decade or so, the use of solar and wind power has risen at a rapid rate, but by 2018 those sources accounted for less than 4 percent of all the energy used in the US.
According to the Federal Energy Information Administration (EIA), the overall amount of energy used in the United States – everything from lighting and heating homes to cooking meals, fueling factories, driving cars and charging smartphones – reached 101.2 quadrillions Btu in 2018, the highest level since data collection started in 1949.
How we accomplished this
In the U.S., the electric power industry uses the largest share of energy about 38 percent of all those Btu flowing into the electric power industry (electric utilities and independent power producers), which converted them into electricity and returned them to the rest of the economy. Transportation accounted for around 28 percent of total energy usage, followed by manufacturing (23 percent), household (7 percent) and commercial (less than 5 percent) establishments.
Per capita use of energy in the U.S. had been a downward trend since the turn of the 21st century but ticked up in 2018. Each American used around 349.8 million Btu on average in the year 2000. By 2017 that fell to 300.5 million Btu, the lowest in five decades. Nevertheless, per capita, energy consumption increased to 309.3 million Btu in 2018. (The per capita energy consumption peaked 359 million Btu in 1979.)
Looked at a different way, since the end of World War II the U.S. economy has become gradually less energy-intensive. It took 15,175 Btu in 1949 to produce every dollar of actual gross domestic product. It took 5,450 by 2018, a fall of 64 percent. But the device still has plenty of inefficiencies: The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory estimated that nearly two-thirds of all the energy used was lost in 2018 (like heat emissions from cars and furnaces).
Today, by domestic production, the United States meets nearly all its energy needs. Net imports, mostly gasoline, accounted for less than 4% of the overall US energy supply in 2018 compared to 26% a decade earlier.
According to EIA data, the US pumped nearly 3.7 billion barrels of crude oil in the first 10 months of 2019, more than 2 billion more than in the same period in 2009. Crude made up for almost a quarter of all U.S. energy production for the full year 2018.
The drastic rises in domestic oil and gas production were powered by new technologies, most notably fracking and horizontal drilling, allowing companies to reach deep reserves that were previously too costly to tap. As a result, the U.S. was the world’s largest oil and gas producer in 2018–ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia, respectively. Since 2000, U.S. solar power generation has risen, coal production has decreased.