U.S. Energy Usage Dropped in 2009

Usually, it's attributable to a recession. But in this case, there are other reasons, as well, to explain why the United States consumed significantly less energy in 2009 than it did in 2008.

Part of the reason is that our mix of energy sources is changing. As a nation, we burned much less coal, petroleum and natural gas in 2009, compared with 2008, and we relied a good deal more on electricity generated from wind power and solar cells, as well as hydro-electric installations and geothermal systems.

Another reason for the energy savings last year was the growing penetration into our economy of high efficiency appliances and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, as well as a growing awareness of the need for conservation -- when people turn off unnecessary lights and unplug appliances, the nation consumes less energy.

These data are tracked and interpreted in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under an operating budget funded by the Department of Energy.

The DOE and LLNL estimate that total energy use in the U.S. during 2009 was an unimaginable 94.6 quadrillion BTUs. As vast as that is, it reflects approximately a 5%  decline from our year-earlier energy consumption, which in 2008 totaled 99.2 quadrillion BTUs. (A BTU, or "British Thermal Unit" is a traditional unit for measuring energy, and represents approximately the same amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water by one degree, Fahrenheit. So if you want to boil some eggs and decide to heat a pound of water from room temperature (72 degrees) to the boiling point (212 degrees), you'll consume about 140 BTUs.)

Most of the reductions in U.S. energy use during 2009 were realized in the industrial sector (at least partially due to the economic slow-down),  although residential, commercial, and transportation energy users all consumed less than they had the year before.

Another reason for the switch from fossil fuels to renewables is the growing roster of incentives that make new technologies more economically appealing, as well as recent technological advancements that make alternative sources of energy more reliable and more viable for a wider range of energy-generation applications. Experts believe we can expect even more energy reductions in the future, as these same forces -- increased investment, stronger incentives, improving technology-- remain in place.

Although it is too early to tell for sure, many experts anticipate that U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which are thought to contribute to global warming, will also show marked declines in response to this same shift from fossil fuels to other sources of energy.

How about you? Are you using more or less power than you did a year ago? Leave a comment to tell us how you managed to cut back on energy usage!

More later ...

Photo Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy