The Evolution of America’s Energy Supply (1776 – 2014)
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently released data on the history of America’s energy supply, sorted by the share of each energy source. We’ve taken that data to create the chart associated with today’s post.
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The early settlers to North America relied on organic materials on the surface of land for the vast majority of their energy needs. Wood, brush, and other biomass fuels were burned to warm homes, and eventually to power steam engines. Small amounts of coal were found in riverbeds and other such outcrops, but only local homes in the vicinity of these deposits were able to take advantage of it for household warmth.
During the Industrial Revolution, it was the invention of the first coal-powered, commercially practical locomotives that turned the tide. Although wood would still be used in the majority of locomotives until 1870, the transition to fossil fuels had begun.
Coke, a product of heating certain types of coal, replaced wood charcoal as the fuel for iron blast furnaces in 1875. Thomas Edison built the first practical coal-fired electric generating station in 1882, which supplied electricity to some residents in New York City. It was just after this time in the 1910s that the United States would be the largest coal producer in the world with 750,000 miners and blasting 550 million tons of coal a year.
The invention of the internal combustion engine and the development of new electrical technologies, including those developed by people like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, were the first steps towards today’s modern power landscape. Fuels such as petroleum and natural gas became very useful, and the first mass-scale hydroelectric stations were built such as Hoover Dam, which opened in 1936.
The discovery and advancement of nuclear technology led to the first nuclear submarine in 1954, and the first commercial nuclear power plant in the United States in Pennsylvania in 1957. In a relatively short period of time, nuclear would have a profound effect on energy supply, and it today 99 nuclear reactors account for 20% of all electricity generated in the United States.
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In more recent decades, scientists found that the current energy mix is not ideal from an environmental perspective. Advancements in renewable energy solutions such as solar, wind, and geothermal were made, helping set up a potential energy revolution. Battery technology, a key challenge for many years, has began to catch up to allow us to store larger amounts of energy when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Companies like Tesla are spending billions of dollars on battery megafactories that will have a great impact on our energy use.
Today, the United States gets the majority of its energy from fossil fuels, though that percentage is slowly decreasing. While oil is still the primary fuel of choice for transportation, it now only generates 1% of the country’s electricity through power plants. Natural gas has also taken on a bigger role over time, because it is perceived as being cleaner than oil and coal.
Today, in 2015, wind and solar power have generated 5% and 1% of total electricity respectively. Hydro generates 7%.
Visualizing the Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production
How much oil, coal, and natural gas do we extract each year? See the scale of annual fossil fuel production in perspective.
The Scale of Global Fossil Fuel Production
Fossil fuels have been our predominant source of energy for over a century, and the world still extracts and consumes a colossal amount of coal, oil, and gas every year.
This infographic visualizes the volume of global fossil fuel production in 2021 using data from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy.
The Facts on Fossil Fuels
In 2021, the world produced around 8 billion tonnes of coal, 4 billion tonnes of oil, and over 4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.
Most of the coal is used to generate electricity for our homes and offices and has a key role in steel production. Similarly, natural gas is a large source of electricity and heat for industries and buildings. Oil is primarily used by the transportation sector, in addition to petrochemical manufacturing, heating, and other end uses.
Here’s a full breakdown of coal, oil, and gas production by country in 2021.
If all the coal produced in 2021 were arranged in a cube, it would measure 2,141 meters (2.1km) on each side—more than 2.5 times the height of the world’s tallest building.
China produced 50% or more than four billion tonnes of the world’s coal in 2021. It’s also the largest consumer of coal, accounting for 54% of coal consumption in 2021.
|Rank||Country||2021 Coal Production|
|% of Total|
|#7||🇿🇦 South Africa||234.5||3%|
India is both the second largest producer and consumer of coal. Meanwhile, Indonesia is the world’s largest coal exporter, followed by Australia.
In the West, U.S. coal production was down 47% as compared to 2011 levels, and the descent is likely to continue with the clean energy transition.
In 2021, the United States, Russia, and Saudi Arabia were the three largest crude oil producers, respectively.
|Rank||Country||2021 Oil Production |
|% of Total|
|#3||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||515.0||12%|
OPEC countries, including Saudi Arabia, made up the largest share of production at 35% or 1.5 billion tonnes of oil.
U.S. oil production has seen significant growth since 2010. In 2021, the U.S. extracted 711 million tonnes of oil, more than double the 333 million tonnes produced in 2010.
Natural Gas Production
The world produced 4,036 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2021. The above graphic converts that into an equivalent of seven billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to visualize it on the same scale as oil and gas.
Here are the top 10 producers of natural gas in 2021:
|Rank||Country||2021 Natural Gas Production |
|% of Total|
|#8||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||117.3||3%|
The U.S. was the largest producer, with Texas and Pennsylvania accounting for 47% of its gas production. The U.S. electric power and industrial sectors account for around one-third of domestic natural gas consumption.
Russia, the next-largest producer, was the biggest exporter of gas in 2021. It exported an estimated 210 billion cubic meters of natural gas via pipelines to Europe and China. Around 80% of Russian natural gas comes from operations in the Arctic region.
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