Trends in Renewable Energy Consumption and Electricity

Total Energy consumption declined for a second year in a row to its lowest level since 1996, dropping 10.1% in industrial areas.


Despite an economic recession and a significant fall in overall energy demand/consumption, the use of renewable fuels grew strongly in 2009. This growth has been supported by federal and state programs, including federal tax credits, state renewable portfolio standards, and a federal renewable fuels standard. The U.S. Energy Information Administration details renewable energy consumption in 2009 and explains the decrease in total energy consumption over the past two years.

Total U.S. Energy Consumption

U.S. energy consumption declined for the second year in a row in 2009, falling 4.8% between 2008 and 2009 to 94.6 quadrillion British Thermal Units (Btus). This follows a 2.1% decline between 2007 and 2008. As a result, total energy consumption in 2009 dropped to its lowest level since 1996.

This is just the third time since 1949 that energy consumption has declined for two or more consecutive years. It declined between 1973 and 1974 and again in 1975. However, consumption rebounded in 1976 above the 1973 level. The longest and steepest decline occurred between 1979 and 1983, when total energy consumption dropped 9.7% and it did not reach the 1979 level again until 1988.

In both of these earlier periods, oil prices that rose steeply and remained at high levels were a major factor in slowing down the economy and hence reducing energy consumption. This time, there has been no steep oil price increase that resulted in permanently higher oil prices; the average annual price per barrel of crude oil was $60 in 2006, $67 in 2007, $94 in 2008, and $56 in 2009. Instead, the economy slowed down mainly due to factors outside the energy sector.

Consumption of all major fuels declined between 2008 and 2009, except for renewables. Coal dropped the most, falling 12%, while petroleum consumption fell nearly 5%, and natural gas consumption fell 2%. Even nuclear fuel consumption fell by nearly 1%. The decline in all of these sources of energy masks the switching of coal to natural gas for electricity generation due to low natural gas prices.

By sector, energy consumption dropped most in the industrial area (10.1%), followed by electric power (4.5%) and then transportation (3.5%). The residential and commercial sectors each experienced declines of under 2%.

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- Edited by Gust Gianos, Consulting-Specifying Engineer,

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