The common measure of energy in the United States is the BTU, or British Thermal Unit. This is the amount of energy required to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit, and is the common measure of the energy content of all fuels. The U.S. produced about 95.1 quadrillion BTUs in 2012. This vast amount of energy comes from a variety of sources that have changed over time.
The Big Five
Our energy supply comes from five major sources. They are nuclear power, petroleum, natural gas, coal and renewable energy. The rounded percentage breakdown of each source is:
- 1. Petroleum: 36 percent
- 2. Natural gas: 28 percent
- 3. Coal: 18 percent
- 4. Renewable energy: 10 percent
- 5. Nuclear Power: 8 percent
How Do We Use Energy?
These energy sources are consumed in a variety of ways, according to each energy source. A good example is petroleum that accounts for 93 percent of energy used in transportation but only one percent of electrical energy, whereas nuclear power is used exclusively for electrical generation.
About 40 percent of all energy is used to produce electricity. The remaining amount is split between transportation, residential and industrial energy use. It is important to understand that “energy” doesn’t mean only electricity. When these fuels are used directly to power machines or systems, they are considered an energy source. For example, a home that uses a natural gas stove is consuming natural gas energy even though it is not using electricity in the stove.
The U.S. has seen remarkable changes in its energy sources over the decades. Prior to the 1920′s wood accounted for more energy than petroleum and today wood energy has virtually disappeared from the measurement. Fossil fuel amounts have skyrocketed, but both petroleum and coal are on the downturn, while natural gas continues to rise. Prior to the 1950s nuclear power didn’t exist, but now it accounts for a sizable chunk of energy supply and is expected to grow. Renewable energy was virtually nonexistent prior to 1970 but has increased at a faster rate than any energy source over the last five years.
The future of energy is never completely certain. Energy experts believe that coal will see the most decrease in the future, at least until ways can be found to burn it more cleanly. Meanwhile, petroleum will lessen but remain the king of our energy supply for as long as we need it for transportation, and natural gas will continue to increase due to its clean burning properties. Nuclear power has stagnated due to the risks associated with its use and issues with clean disposal of nuclear waste, but it is likely to increase. Renewable energy sources are likely to see the strongest increase due the major political and social push toward such energy. Significantly changing our energy landscape, however, will require an overhaul of many industries, especially the transportation industry. Stream Energy Texas has some options.