By - Jim Vess

U.S. hit a record for energy consumption in 2018 led by increases in oil and natural gas

Energize Weekly, April 24, 2019

The United States hit a record high 101.3 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) for primary energy consumption in 2018—surpassing by three-tenths of a percent the previous high in 2007, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Energy consumption was up 4 percent from 2017. It was the largest annual increase in terms of percentage and Btu since 2010.

Fossil fuels—petroleum, natural gas and coal—accounted for 80 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and were up 4 percent year-on-year. Natural gas led the way with a 10 percent increase over 2017—a record high.

Natural gas consumption was 83.1 billion cubic feet a day, equivalent to 31 quadrillion Btu. Weather-related events—cold spells that required space heating and heat waves that increased air-conditioning use—drove up natural gas use across all sectors in 2018.

The increase in natural gas–fired power plants, which have become the largest single source of electricity in the county, led to 15 percent increase, to 29.1 billion cubic feet a day, in use by the utility sector compared with 2017 levels. At the same time, natural gas use was up year-on-year 13 percent in the residential sector, 10 percent in the commercial sector and 4 percent in the industrial sector.

Petroleum consumption for the year was up 2.5 percent, or 500,000 barrels a day, to 20.5 million barrels a day, equal to 37 quadrillion Btu. That was the highest level since 2007.

Industry accounted for 40 percent of the increase in petroleum consumption, followed by the transport sector, which represented 28 percent of the increase, as there was more demand for jet and diesel fuels.

A 4 percent decline in coal consumption to 688 million short tons, 13 quadrillion Btu, was offset by the natural gas increase, as well as smaller increases in petroleum fuels, renewable energy and nuclear power. It was the fifth consecutive annual decline.

Almost all the coal losses came in the electric power sector. Where coal-fired plants are being replaced with natural gas and renewable generation. In 2018, 12.9 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity were shuttered, while 14.6 GW of net natural gas-fired capacity were added.

Renewable energy consumption also reached a record high in 2018, 11.5 quadrillion Btu, a 3 percent increase over 2017. Photovoltaic solar installations and wind farms accounted for most of the increase, with wind up 8 percent and solar consumption up 22 percent.

Still, biomass, in the form of transportation fuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, made up 45 percent of renewable consumption. Increases in wind, solar, and biomass consumption were partially offset by a 3 percent decrease in hydroelectricity consumption.

Nuclear power plants accounted for 8 percent of the energy consumed, a 1 percent increase over 2017 levels.

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