U.S. Energy: The Big Picture

From economic recovery to climate change, energy production and consumption daily affects every American in fundamental ways. In order to evaluate Administration energy policy one must first understand the big picture – where does energy come from and how is it used?

As amazing as this might seem, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) provides the answers in a single graph. The graph is for the year 2012 only, but generally applies to every year thereafter between now and 2040. In future years natural gas and renewable energy will contribute a little more and coal less than in 2012, but not by lots.

Energy sources

On the left, the graph lists five main energy sources and how much of total energy they provide:

  • Petroleum (36%)
  • Natural gas (27%)
  • Coal (18%)
  • Renewable energy (9%)
  • Nuclear (8%)

In this case, renewable energy includes – in order of most to least – biomass, hydroelectric, wind, geothermal and solar. Biomass is the most, even more than hydro, because it includes corn-based ethanol gasoline additives required by the federal government.

Solar makes so microscopic a contribution (<0.2 percent) that it hardly rates mentioning.

Energy consumption by sector

On the right, the graph lists four general energy sectors and how much of total energy they consume:

  • Electric power (40%)
  • Transportation (28%)
  • Industrial (22%)
  • Residential/commercial (10%)

A bunch of arrowed lines go from left to right. Each line goes from one energy source to one energy sector. There are numbers listed on each side of the line.

The left number lists the percentage of energy from that particular source that is directed to a specific energy sector. The number on the right side of the line is the percentage of total energy that an energy source supplies to that energy sector.

For example, 71 percent of all petroleum is used in the transportation sector. No surprise there. It is used to produce gasoline and diesel for cars and trucks. On the other side, 93 percent of all energy used in the transportation sector comes from petroleum, very little from anywhere else.

Petroleum supplies 29 percent of its energy to the other three sectors. Petroleum provides 23 percent of its total for industrial uses. Most folks probably don’t realize that. Five percent goes to residential and commercial use. A miniscule one percent goes to produce electricity.

Petroleum, the largest source of energy in the United States, supplies the least amount of energy for the largest energy using sector – electric power!

Noteworthy energy source and energy sector factoids

Electric power eats up the lion’s share of all energy consumed in the United States. It gobbles up 40 percent! From the above graph, it can be seen that even though coal supplies only 18 percent of all U.S. energy, 93 percent of its total goes into supplying 41 percent of all U.S. electricity.

Natural gas provides the 2nd most energy used to generate electricity – 28 percent. Together coal and natural gas supply 65 percent of U. S. electric power.

Nuclear power goes 100 percent into electricity production, but it’s just 1/5th the total.

Renewable energy sends 53 percent of its output to produce 13 percent of U.S. electricity.

Natural gas is spread around all over the place. Nearly 1/3rd each of it goes into electric power, industrial and residential/commercial use. But those amounts translate into about 42 percent of industrial energy, 74 percent of residential/ commercial and 24 percent of electric power.


Renewable energy grew by about two percentage points after President Obama directed $50 billion or so of “stimulus” money and energy department investments into wind and solar power.

The renewable energy portion of transportation sector energy grew to four percent after billions in government investments were poured into electric cars in a failed attempt to put a million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the road by 2015.

Burning coal chugs out about 40 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States through coal-fired electric power plants. That is why the Obama Administration has targeted coal-fired electric power plants for greenhouse gas emission restrictions. It’s targeting natural gas-fired power plants to.

Administration conservation efforts have helped reduce petroleum consumption in the transportation sector.

Big increases in the production of natural gas and petroleum in the last six years have helped keep electric rates and gasoline prices down.

You can learn a lot from just one EIA graph!


About azleader

Learning to see life more clearly... one image at a time!

Posted on Feb 6, 2014, in Business, economics, Economy, EIA, Energy, energy policy, environment, Government, news, Politics, science, Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Albert Einstein (1) and Max Planck (2) address the Big Picture of Earth’s Energy:

    1. “My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable (limitless) superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble minds. That deeply emotional conviction of the presence of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible universe, forms my idea of God.” – Albert Einstein’s obituary in the New York Times (19 April 1955)


    2. “All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.” – Max Planck [Das Wesen der Materie [The Nature of Matter], speech at Florence, Italy (1944) (from Archiv zur Geschichte der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Abt. Va, Rep. 11 Planck, Nr. 1797)


    Petroleum, Natural gas and Coal are three forms of Renewable energy.

    Therefore CO2, a combustion product and fuel for photosynthesis in the production of vegetation, petroleum, natural gas & coal is one of many undeniable indications of “a superior reasoning power !”

    With kind regards,
    – Oliver K. Manuel
    Former NASA Principal
    Investigator for Apollo

  2. Petroleum, coal and natural gas are renewable only if you are willing to wait millions of years for them to be replenished. lol!!!

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