The United States is the world’s largest consumer of energy in general and of oil and refined products in particular. However, our current and forecasted energy production and consumption balance is improving towards a position of declining imports and more efficient use of all energy sources. The vast new supplies of oil and natural gas coming from domestic shale are radically altering our outlook for eventual self-sustainability. And, the continuing development of “renewable” and “alternate” energy sources will decrease our reliance on traditional “fossil” fuels. We will now take a look at the current state of energy production and consumption in the US followed by a brief examination of the renewable and alternative energy sources.
The following pie chart (Figure 4) shows the United State energy consumption by source in 2016. As shown in the chart, petroleum that is mainly used for the purpose of transportation has the biggest share of 37%. Natural gas is in second place with 29% share of energy consumption.
Click to see a text description of Figure 4.
U.S. Energy Consumption by Energy Source, 2016
Total = 97.4 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu)
- Petroleum: 37%
- NaturalGas: 29%
- Coal: 15%
- Nuclear electric power: 9%
- Renewable Energy: 10% (10.2 quadrillion Btu)
Renewable energy is broken down as follows:
- Hydroelectric: 24%
- Biomass: 46%
- Wood: 19%
- Biofuels: 22%
- Biomass Waste: 5%
- Wind: 21%
- Solar: 6%
- Geothermal: 2%
Figure 5, below, illustrates the history and projected energy consumption in the United States by source. Notice the forecasted decline in the use of coal, while natural gas and renewables consumption are expected to increase. The increase in natural gas consumption has much to do with the following: the current historically low prices resulting from the huge amount of new shale gas being produced, and new tighter emissions standards being imposed on coal-fired power plants. If you are interested in the history of energy consumption in the United States, click on the following link, it is a graph showing the history of energy consumption in the United States from 1775 to 2015.
These alternative energy sources will continue to grow as long as economically feasible, and especially if government subsidies are available to support their production (e.g. – ethanol). However, realize that the EIA (Energy Information Administration) is projecting only a modest increase by 2040. There is a general misconception that this category, which includes wind and solar power, will eventually contribute a substantial portion of our energy needs. Clearly, such is not the case. Nuclear production is shown as being stable, however, we know that new plants are being permitted, and with the negligible emissions they produce, look for an increase in power output from this source.
As far as natural gas goes, an increase is indicated. The residential use of heating oil and propane is steadily declining as conversions to natural gas steadily continue. (50% of US homes use natural gas for space heating and hot water.) Add to that the retirement of coal plants, or the outright switching from coal to natural gas, and growth in the consumption of natural gas will naturally occur.
The future consumption of oil and “other liquids” will be interesting to observe as well. With automobile efficiency improving and electric cars gaining in popularity, this segment should decline. Also, there are decades-old power plants, mostly in the Northeastern US, that use fuel oil. These, too, will become obsolete or convert to natural gas. (The Northeast US is also the world’s largest consumer of heating oil.)
There should also be a more dramatic decline in the use of coal than what is shown above as emissions restrictions and lower natural gas prices make coal less economic to use.
The fuels we will study in-depth, natural gas and “oil and other liquids,” comprise more than half of the projected total US energy consumption profile, thus making it crucial to understand the logistics and “value chain” of these fuel sources.
The following chart illustrates the various types of energy in the US and the corresponding consumption types.
In Figure 6, above, we see the energy sources matched-up with their respective categories of consumption. Both petroleum and natural gas are used in each sector of consumption, while coal is utilized in only industrial, residential (this would have to be a very small amount), and power generation. Nuclear energy is strictly used for electric power generation, and renewables can be consumed in all categories but contribute very little to each on a percentage basis.
The sources and uses of energy are important for the overall understanding of the impact of supply, demand, and pricing on the macroeconomic environment. Everything depends on energy, and understanding these interrelationships can help us manage our supply needs and price exposure.