Photo courtesy of National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


The largest source of energy in the United States is fossil fuels (coal, petroleum and natural gas). Use of individual fossil fuels changed at different rates over the decades, but all three major forms have been essential to meeting the nation’s energy requirements. In 1949, fossil fuel consumption in the United States totaled 29 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu); in 2005, the total was 86 quadrillion Btu. A second major form of energy is nuclear power, which got its start in the United States in 1957 when the Shippingport, Pennsylvania, nuclear electric power plant came on line. By 2005, the industry had expanded to supply 19 percent of the nation’s electrical output and 12 percent of all energy used in the country. The third form of energy is the renewable forms, which include conventional hydroelectric power; biomass such as wood, waste and alcohol fuels; geothermal; solar; and wind.

Before the expansion in fossil fuel use that began with coal in the late 1800s, wood was the primary fuel used in this country. Today, the United States is looking again at renewable resources to find new ways to use them to help the country meet its energy needs. In recent years, all forms of renewable energy together accounted for 6 percent of U.S. total energy consumption.  April 2009 . . . Energy Industry Profile


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