U.S. Sets New Record For Energy Consumption

(January 21, 2020) — In a presidential race that has seen Democratic candidates universally assault fossil fuels and call for banning their use in order to reverse climate change, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) at year end reviewed that primary energy consumption in the U.S. reached a record high of 101.3 quadrillion Btu in 2018. That mark was up 4% from 2017 and was 0.3% above the previous record set in 2007. The increase in 2018 was the largest rise in energy consumption, in both absolute and percentage terms, since 2010.

Consumption of fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas, and coal—grew by 4% in 2018 and accounted for 80% of total U.S. energy consumption. Natural gas use reached a record high, rising by 10% from 2017.

This increase for natural gas, along with relatively smaller upticks in the consumption of petroleum fuels, renewable energy, and nuclear electric power, more than offset a 4% decline in coal consumption.

Petroleum consumption in the U.S. rose to 20.5 MMbbld, or 37 quadrillion Btu, in 2018, up nearly 500,000 bbld from the previous year and the highest level since 2007. Growth was driven primarily by increased use in the industrial sector, which grew by about 200,000 bbld in 2018. The transportation sector advanced by about 140,000 bbld in 2018 as a result of rising demand for fuels such as petroleum diesel and jet fuel.

Natural gas consumption reached a record-high 83.1 Bcfd, the equivalent of 31 quadrillion Btu. Natural gas use climbed across all sectors in 2018, mainly driven by weather-related factors that boosted demand for space heating during the winter and for air conditioning during the summer. As more natural gas-fired plants came online and existing plants were used more often, consumption in the electric power sector jumped 15% from 2017 levels to 29.1 Bcfd. Natural gas consumption also grew in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, increasing 13%, 10%, and 4%, respectively, compared with 2017 use.

Coal consumption in the U.S. fell to 688 million short tons, or 13 quadrillion Btu, in 2018, the fifth consecutive year of decline. Nearly all of the reduction came from the electric power sector, which declined 4% from the 2017 mark. Coal-fired power plants continued to be displaced by newer, more efficient natural gas and renewable power generation sources. In 2018, 12.9 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity was retired, while 14.6 gigawatts of net natural gas-fired capacity was added.

Renewable energy consumption in the nation reached a record-high of 11.5 quadrillion Btu in 2018, rising 3% year over year. The increase was largely driven by the addition of new wind and solar power plants. Wind electricity consumption rose by 8%, while solar jumped 22%. Biomass consumption, primarily in the form of transportation fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, accounted for 45% of all renewable consumption in 2018, up 1% from 2017 levels. Increases in wind, solar, and biomass consumption were partially offset by a 3% decrease in hydroelectricity consumption.

Nuclear consumption increased less than 1% compared to 2017 but still set a record for electricity generation in 2018. The number of total operable nuclear generating units decreased to 98 in September 2018 when the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station in New Jersey was retired. Annual average nuclear capacity factors, which reflect the use of power plants, were slightly higher at 92.6% in 2018 compared with 92.2% in 2017.

(SOURCE: The Weekly Propane Newsletter, January 20, 2020. Click to receive trial subscription.)