United States Energy Consumption

The United States uses and produces many different types and sources of energy, which can be grouped into general categories such as primary and secondary, renewable and nonrenewable, and fossil fuels. Primary energy sources include fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal), nuclear energy, and renewable sources of energy.

Renewable and nonrenewable resources are energy sources that human society uses to function on a daily basis. The difference between these two types of resources is that renewable resources can naturally replenish themselves while nonrenewable resources cannot. This means that nonrenewable resources are limited in supply and cannot be used sustainably.

petroleum
36%
natural gas
31%
coal
13%
renewable
11%
nuclear
8%

United States Energy Consumption 2019

The Renewable Energy Sources

Solar

Solar devices, or solar cells, change sunlight directly into electricity. Small solar cells can power calculators, watches, and other small electronic devices. Arrangements of many solar cells in panels and arrangements of multiple panels in arrays can produce electricity for an entire house. Some solar power plants have large arrays that cover many acres to produce electricity for thousands of homes.

Wind

Wind turbines use blades to collect the wind's kinetic energy. Wind flows over the blades creating lift, which causes the blades to turn. Mass production and technology advances are making turbines cheaper, and many governments offer tax incentives to spur wind-energy development.

Biomass

Biomass is produced from non-fossilized plant materials. Wood and wood waste are the largest sources of biomass energy in the United States, followed by biofuels and municipal solid waste.

Hydroelectric

Hydroelectric power is produced with moving water. The volume of the water flow and the change in elevation—or fall, and often referred to as head—from one point to another determine the amount of available energy in moving water. In general, the greater the water flow and the higher the head, the more electricity a hydropower plant can produce.

Geothermal

Geothermal energy is heat from the hot interior of the earth or near the earth's surface. Fissures in the earth's crust allow water, heated by geothermal energy, to rise naturally to the surface at hot springs and geysers. Wells drilled into the earth allow a controlled release of steam or water to the surface to power steam turbines to generate electricity. The near constant temperature of the earth near the earth's surface is used in geothermal heat pumps for heating and cooling buildings.

Concequenses of Using Nonrenewable Energy Sources

Unfortunately, human society is—for the time being—dependent on nonrenewable resources as its primary source of energy. Approximately 80 percent of the total amount of energy used globally each year comes from fossil fuels. We depend on fossil fuels because they are energy-rich and relatively cheap to process. But a major problem with fossil fuels, aside from their being in limited supply, is that burning them releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Rising levels of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the main cause of global warming.

Other concequenses are, for example, fracturing rocks can cause mini-earthquakes. The high-pressure water and chemicals that are forced underground can also leak to other sources of water. The water sources, used for drinking or bathing, can become contaminated and unsafe. Burning gasoline releases hazardous gases and fumes into the air that we breathe and oil that floats on water can look like food to fish and ruin birds’ feathers. Coal miners are exposed to toxic dust and face the dangers of cave-ins and explosions at work.

Signing up for green energy companies will reduce your carbon footprint. Power companies came up with renewable energy certificates and each certificate represents a given amount of electricity that’s been generated from renewable sources. When energy companies produce that power, they get certificates they can sell to consumers. So, when you sign up for green energy, you’re really buying those renewable energy certificates.

If you have a regulated energy system and won’t be able to choose your electricity provider, you can still find your renewable energy certificates through Green-e.