Clean Power

Published on April 8th, 2014 | by James Ayre


Americans Using More Energy Than Ever — Energy Use In The US Still Growing Rapidly

April 8th, 2014 by  

Americans are using more and more energy every year, according to the most recent energy flow charts released by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Across the board, more energy of every type — everything from renewables, to fossil fuels, to nuclear — is being used. In 2013, Americans used over 2.3 quadrillion thermal units more than in 2012.

Image Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/Charles McGregor

That is some very notable growth in energy usage — something that is a real problem when you consider the fact that regardless of any technological improvements that may occur (or may not) in the near-future, energy use will have to decrease to some degree or other with the increasing scarcity of economically recoverable fossil fuels. Also, switching to renewable sources of energy isn’t enough on it’s own to limit carbon emissions to a large enough degree to mitigate severe climate change — decreased energy use would be a requirement — so to see energy use of all types is not decreasing, but actually increasing, is a worrying (though not at all surprising) trend.

The Laboratory has also provided a companion chart that illustrates the nation’s growing energy-related carbon dioxide emissions — carbon dioxide emissions in 2013 in America rose to over 5,390 million metric tons, the first increase since 2010.

The DOE/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory provides more:

Wind energy continued to grow strongly, increasing 18 percent from 1.36 quadrillion BTUs, or quads, in 2012 to 1.6 quads in 2013 (a BTU or British Thermal Unit is a unit of measurement for energy; 3,400 BTU is equivalent to about 1 kilowatt-hour). New wind farms continue to come on line with bigger, more efficient turbines. Most new wind turbines can generate 2 to 2.5 megawatts of power.

Natural gas prices rose slightly in 2013, reversing some of the recent shift from coal to gas in the electricity production sector. Overall natural gas use increased by 0.6 quads. Losses in the electricity sector were more than offset by greater gas use in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors.

Nuclear energy was greater in 2013 than in 2012. The use of nuclear energy fluctuates a little from year to year. It’s likely that in 2013, fewer reactors were down for refueling than in previous years. However, a few of the nation’s about 100 reactors have recently closed for good, such as the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Pendleton, California.

The majority of energy use in 2013 was used for electricity generation (38.2 quads), followed by transportation, industrial, residential and commercial. Energy use in the residential, commercial transportation and industrial sectors all increased slightly.

Petroleum use increased in 2013 from the previous year. Simon estimates that, with oil prices remaining relatively constant, this is likely due to the modest economic expansion.

Something to note: along with the increase in total energy use, there was an accompanying increase in “rejected energy” — that’s to say, in the amount of energy generated that doesn’t end up being utilized. This “rejected energy” increased from 58.1 quads in 2012 to 59 in 2013.

“Not all of the energy that we consume is put to use,” Simon explained. “Heat you feel when you put your hand on your water heater and the warm exhaust from your car’s tailpipe are examples of rejected energy. Comparing energy services to rejected energy gives a rough estimate of each sector’s energy efficiency.”

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About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • RobS

    Thus article is rather misleading, energy use did rise between 2012 and 2013 however it is down on the peak in 2008, just 2012 was a big drop from 2011 and 2013 lifted a little back into the long term trend which us overall showing a slow steady decline.

  • JamesWimberley

    We shouldn’t worry about how much renewable energy is used. However, it’s still such a small slice of the pie that it’s vital to shrink the pie in order to shrink the dominant fossil slices.

    Cutting the waste – the rejected energy – is the key. That’s mostly from power generation and transportation. When wind and solar replace coal stations, that cuts the waste energy in coal-fired generation 100% (the inefficiencies in wind and solar conversion are netted out at source). Evs are not 100% efficient tank-to- wheels, but they are 3 times better than ICEs, so every ev on the roads cuts a lot of waste.

  • Matt

    So biggest wasters (lowest % used) is electric generation (over 2/3 waste) and transportation (4/5 waste, not counting traffic jams). So a heavy carbon tax would help both.

  • Fact

    Anyone care to guess at what point will ev’s be dominant enough in the market place to warrant a line from electricity generated to transportation in a graph like this? I know these are all from prior years- so limited ev adoption- however,when should we expect to see the results of the increased ev miles driven impact graphs with data of this scale?

    • Fact

      oops, just saw the .0257

  • Professor Ray Wills

    A peculiar angle on this story:

    Americans are using more and more energy every year?

    No, they’re not.

    Energy Use In The US Still Growing Rapidly? No, it isn’t

    Historical data from – energy growth peaked in 2008, energy use in 2013 no different to 2011.

    2013: 97.4 Quads
    2012: 95.1 Quads
    2011: 97.3 Quads
    2010: 98.0 Quads
    2009: 94.6 Quads
    2008: 99.2 Quads

    Anyone know why was 2012 was so low?

    • Banned by Bob

      I suspect it it the winter weather effect.

      It’s hard to see how our energy consumption is going up with gasoline demand in decline and electricity demand flat to down.

    • Michael Berndtson

      Let’s look at energy conversion: energy in use/total energy in percent. From LLNL website on this topic.

      2013: 39.4%
      2012: 38.9% – something, something politics
      2011: 42.9%
      2010: 42.7%
      2009: 42.3%
      2008: 42.5%

      2005: 42.8% – we used a max total of 100.4 quads – height of the aughts housing boom?

      2000: 37.2% – height of massive SUV crazy?
      1995: 41%
      1990: 40.8%
      1985: 44.0%

      Our energy put to use and not wasted as heat or whatnot seems to be going down, in general.

      I’m stumped.

      • Ronald Brakels

        In Australia, decreasing grid electricity consumption is now a fact of life. There are three main causes. Improved efficiency, rooftop solar, and people responding to higher electricity prices. And the less electricity people use, the higher the prices distributors are allowed to charge, so we’re in an interesting situation. Two factors clearly apply in the US: Improved efficiency and rooftop solar. I expect grid electricity use in the US will decline as a result, although perhaps not as dramatically as in Australia.

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