Over the past several hundred years, humans have seen their energy options change dramatically. Whereas wood and coal used to dominate consumption throughout the Industrial Revolution, petroleum (oil) and natural gas now account for around 60% of the energy used by Americans. In 2019, the United States consumed an average of about 20.54 million barrels of petroleum per day, totaling about 7.50 billion barrels of petroleum that year. Growth in petroleum was primarily caused by increased use in the industrial sector, which is 32% of all energy consumption. On the other hand, natural gas use rose across all sectors in 2018, primarily driven by extreme weather changes that increased demand for space heating during the winter and for air conditioning during the summer.
Though the decrease in coal usage has represented a boon to environmentalists, there is still concern about the relatively small share of U.S. energy that is produced by renewable resources. Solar power, for instance, made up less than 10% of the energy produced in 2019.
Renewable energy—which includes all energy sources that are easily and quickly replenished, like wind, rain, and sunlight—is the key to clean and long-lasting energy production. Compared to petroleum, which is a finite resource and has numerous negative environmental effects, renewables represent the possibility for significant energy production without harmful ecological risks. Despite the small fraction of US energy usage corresponding to renewable energy, renewables have appeared to show a steady increase as solar consumption alone rose 22% from 2017 to 2018.
With the U.S. using over three times more energy than just 70 years ago, it’s paramount to develop renewable energy sources that meet demand while preventing long-lasting effects on ecological and human wellbeing. While energy policy often lies outside of the power of an individual, solar energy offers the ability to invest in green energy on the scale of the home. Powering homes and other residences represents 20% of all energy consumption in the United States. A setup of solar panels that offsets the energy required to heat, cool, and power a house has dual benefits of saving money and helping the environment.
In the infographic below, you can see further how energy choices have changed over time and what the future of energy may look like.
Exploring Energy Consumption & Production Over Time
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