U.S. Fossil Fuel Use Changing Again
While the energy history of the United States is one of significant change, three fossil fuel sources—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—have made up at least 80 percent of total U.S. energy consumption for more than 100 years.
Recent increases in the domestic production of petroleum liquids and natural gas prompted shifts between the uses of fossil fuels (largely from coal-fired to natural gas-fired power generation), but the predominance of these three energy sources is likely to continue into the future.
For the first several decades of American history, families used wood (a renewable energy source) as a primary source of energy. Coal became dominant in the late 19th century before being overtaken by petroleum products in the middle of the 20th century, a time when natural gas usage also rose quickly.
Since the mid-20th century, use of coal increased again (mainly as a primary energy source for electric power generation), and a new form of energy—nuclear electric power—emerged.
After a pause in the 1970s, the use of petroleum and natural gas resumed growth. Petroleum consumption decreased in recent years, but natural gas has continued to provide a greater share of U.S. energy consumption.
In the late 1980s, renewable energy consumption (other than wood and hydroelectric) began to appear, increasing significantly in the mid-2000s.
In 2014, the renewable share of energy consumption in the United States was the highest (nearly 10 percent) since the 1930s, when wood represented a larger share of consumption.
Renewable energy is a small but growing piece of the U.S. energy mix. The greatest growth in renewables today is in solar and wind power, which along with geothermal and biomass, are included in other renewables.