Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory chart
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory reports that the U.S. used 97.3 quads of energy in 2011 — significantly less than the 98 quads consumed in 2010. (Photo credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)
LIVERMORE, Calif. — According to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), Americans used less energy in 2011 than in the previous year due mainly to a shift to higher-efficiency energy technologies in the transportation and residential sectors. Meanwhile, LLNL energy flow charts reveal that less coal was used but more natural gas was consumed.

Wind power saw the biggest jump from 0.92 quadrillion Btu, or quads, in 2010 up to 1.17 quads in 2011. “Wind energy jumped significantly because, as in previous years, many new wind farms came online,” said A.J. Simon, energy systems analyst, LLNL. “This is the result of sustained investment in wind power.”

Hydroelectricity also saw an increase from 2.51 quads in 2010 to 3.17 quads in 2011. LLNL attributes the increase in hydroelectricity to large amounts of precipitation in the Western U.S., which allowed hydroelectric dams to produce at maximum levels while keeping reservoirs full. Similar levels of hydroelectric production were recorded in 1997, 1998, and 1999 due to wet years.

Overall, U.S. energy use in 2011 equaled 97.3 quads compared to the 98 quads used in 2010. Most of the energy was tied to coal, natural gas, and petroleum. From 2010-2011, use of coal fell dramatically, use of oil decreased slightly, and use of natural gas increased slightly from 24.65 quads in 2010 to 24.9 quads in 2011.

“Sustained low natural gas prices have prompted a shift from coal to gas in the electricity generating sector,” Simon said. “Sustained high oil prices have likely driven the decline in oil use over the past five years as people choose to drive less and purchase automobiles that get more miles per gallon.”

The majority of energy use in 2011, 39.2 quads, was for electricity generation, followed by transportation, industrial, commercial, and residential consumption. However, energy use in the residential, commercial, and transportation sectors decreased while industrial energy use increased slightly.

“With the advent of shale gas, it appears that natural gas prices in the United States may remain lower than their historical averages for many years into the future,” Simon said. “This has prompted many gas users in the industrial and electricity generating sectors to switch from coal or oil to natural gas when it is technically possible, but might not have been economical at higher gas prices.”

Publication date: 12/10/2012