Energy consumption in the United States has changed significantly over the past hundred years, according to data collected by the EIA.
In 1908, the country consumed just 15 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu), of which 75% was coal, compared to 1997 when it totaled 94 quadrillion Btu with coal’s share of total consumption reaching only 25% and with significantly higher shares for natural gas and nuclear power.
The share of nonhydro renewable consumption is actually lower today (10%) than it was in 1908 (15%), largely because wood (technically a renewable biomass fuel) was displaced by coal. Today, solar and wind generation are increasing and make up most of the total nonhydro renewables.
As the primary transportation fuel, petroleum has remained a major component of energy consumption in the U.S. with no other fuel eating into its share as was the case with coal. The effects of affordable self-driving and/or electric vehicles remains to be seen, but will almost certainly become noticeable in the next decade.
The EIA data below shows in better detail the trending of U.S. energy consumption away from coal use and towards the use of natural gas over the last 15 years. The shift accelerated in the last few years as fracking opened up vast natural gas resources throughout the U.S. and environmental regulations favored gas for its less carbon intensive burn.
In the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s International Energy Outlook 2016 (IEO2016) and Annual Energy Outlook 2016 (AEO2016), shale gas is expected to account for 30% of world natural gas production by 2040.
Natural gas production from shale gas plays accounted for 50% of total U.S. natural gas production in 2015 and it is expected to increase all the way through 2040, according to the EIA, before accounting for 70% of total U.S. natural gas production by 2040.
Shale gas is expected to continuing growing as a percentage of world natural gas production as well.
Shale gas production is projected to account for almost 30% of Canada’s total natural gas production by 2040, more than 40% of China’s, almost 75% of Argentina’s, 33% of Algeria’s, and more than 75% of Mexico’s.
Politics may prompt faster adoption of natural gas as a replacement for coal.
In the EU, the European parliament is already taking steps to enable faster carbon reductions in Europe’s emissions market. A environment committee panel is scheduled to vote on Dec. 8 on a package of legislation that could, among other things such as restructuring overlapping policies and allowances, mean a cut in emission permits. Should such a cut occur, natural gas is the cheapest “clean” alternative to the coal that currently powers much of Europe as it gives off roughly half the emissions per unit of power produced.
Meanwhile, the stance the U.S. government takes on carbon emissions and, by extension, coal.
The two presidential candidates have energy policies on opposite ends of the spectrum of climate change argument. On one hand, the Democratic nominee would continue the Obama administration’s current policies including the Clean Power Plan that would have the EPA limit carbon emissions from power plants. On the other hand, the Republican nominee would attempt to end those policies. The latter scenario would certainly be less harsh for coal companies. That said, natural gas usage would certainly increase under both, just much more so under the Democrat than the Republican.