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The topic of how much energy we all use has become a political hotbed, especially as it relates to climate change. There have been numerous attempts at both the federal and state level – some successful – to promote new and emerging technologies to combat climate change, as well as put laws in place to curb carbon emissions. As policymakers continue to develop policies around climate change, it is important to know some of the basics regarding electricity in the United States.

Electricity Use in America

Next to China, America is the largest consumer of electricity in the world. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, America has used 4,146.2 Terawatt hours (a Terawatt is a unit of power equal to one trillion watts). The majority of electricity is used by homes, which accounts for about 38 percent of all consumption. Commercial consumers (offices, for example) account for an additional 36 percent, while industry (mostly manufacturing) accounts for 26 percent.

Where Does the Power Come From?

Power in the U.S. is generated, distributed and supplied by publicly-owned utilities (municipal, state or federal), investor-owned utilities, independent generators that sell to other utilities (but not directly to consumers), and rural electrical cooperatives. Competition exists in some markets due to deregulation efforts over the years. All companies, however, are still under strict oversight by state and federal authorities.

Types of Energy Used in the U.S

The vast majority of energy generated in the U.S. is from fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas.  Nuclear energy also plays a major role, with 99 reactors in operation across the country. Hydro-power and wind-produced energy are major sources of renewable energy. Other renewable types of energy, like solar, geothermal and biomass power are smaller in comparison, but are seen as important growth-sectors.

The following chart below outlines the contribution of each type of energy used in 2015 (source: U.S. Energy Information Administration).

Policy Debate

Whether turning on the lights in our homes or powering up our smart phones, we need reliable electricity to power our lives and the economy.

In recent years, there have been many plans to address climate change at the federal level: cap-and-trade, carbon tax, Renewable Fuel Standard and efforts to promote energy efficiency, to name a few. Some states have enacted their own legislation, creating a patchwork of laws across the country. Many cite that this creates uncertainty for some companies, as many work to deal with the needs of today and the concerns for tomorrow. Cyber-security threats and terrorism prevention are also concerns energy providers and federal and state governments work on to ensure a seamless and ubiquitous electrical system.

Key Facts

The United States uses 4,146.2 Terawatt hours of electricity a year.

America is the second largest consumer of electricity in the world, right after China.

The following are the energy sources for electricity in the United States:

  • Coal: 33%
  • Natural Gas: 33%
  • Nuclear: 20%
  • Hydropower: 6%
  • Wind: 4.7%
  • Biomass: 1.6%
  • Petroleum: 1%
  • Solar: 0.6%
  • Geothermal: 0.4%