mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
US Energy in One Very Cool Chart


If you’re at all interested in how America produces its energy, and to what end, do yourself a favor and click the image above. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) works with the Department of Energy to produce annual flow charts for US energy. In doing so it provides excellent visualizations of how our energy supply meets our energy demands.

By comparing 2012’s numbers with previous years, we can better understand how the US energy picture has changed. For instance, in 2012 the US used 2.2 percent less energy than in 2011, and 4.1 percent less energy than in 2008. The global recession had something to do with this, but the decline in energy use can also be attributed to an overall increase in energy efficiency: America is getting more bang for its energy buck.

Natural gas is up more than 9 percent since 2008, evidence of the recent shale boom. Renewables are up sharply: last year’s supply of wind and solar energy were both approximately 2.6 times greater than in 2008, though their combined share of our energy mix remains miniscule. More distressingly, we’re using 11.3 percent more energy from biomass, the result of our country’s biofuel boondoggle.

The chart also contains a bit of excellent news for greens: coal use declined 22.4 percent from 2008 to 2012, largely thanks to shale gas. Fracking gets a bad rep from the environmentalist community (a rep it doesn’t deserve), but to the extent that shale gas displaces coal, which emits twice as much carbon when burned, it’s making the world a greener place.

[Estimated 2012 US energy use chart courtesy of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Department of Energy]

Features Icon
show comments
  • Andrew Allison

    This picture really is worth a thousand, or several, words. It’s worth noting that the transition from coal to natgas for generation is proceeding apace without Administration interference of taxpayer funds, and that alternative energy is a sideshow.

  • Pait

    It is notable that more than half of the energy produced is rejected. Whoever is concerned about the environment or about energy security should be pushing for conservation first. Alternative energy sources, green, brown, or nuclear, are not nearly as significant as avoiding waste.

  • ChuckFinley

    One interesting aspect of that picture is how little electric energy is used in transportation. One way to change that is by electrifying the rail lines in cities with air pollution issues so that the diesel electric locomotives are not running their diesel engines but drawing electric power from catenary lines. By running trains at night and off peak hours, railroad companies would be making use of some of that rejected electric power and would see a reduction in their fuel costs.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service