The Department of Energy/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory said Wednesday that energy use went back up in 2010 compared to 2009, when consumption was at a 12-year low.

While renewable electricity remained somewhat constant with an increase in wind power offset by a decline in hydroelectricity, the United States used more fossil fuels than in 2009, emitting 5,632 million metric tons of carbon dioxide up from the 5,428 in 2009 but down from the all-time high of 6,022 in 2007.

“The decrease is due primarily to reduced energy consumption, but aided by a shift from coal to natural gas in the electric sector and adoption of renewable energy resources,” the authors wrote.

Energy Data: Wind Power, Biomass

Analysts said there was a significant increase in biomass consumption as well, according to the most recent energy flow charts released by the Laboratory.

Energy use data shows that wind power has jumped from .70 quadrillion BTU or quads, in 2009 to .92 quads in 2010.

While most of that energy is tied to electricity generation it helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production.

Biomass energy consumption rose from 3.88 quads to 4.29 quads, an increase driven by ethanol use as a transportation fuel and a feedstock for industrial production.

The apparent decline in geothermal energy use is due to an accounting change by the Energy Information Administration, the authors wrote.

"We are still seeing the capacity additions from a wind energy boom come online," said. A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst who develops the flow charts using data provided by the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration. "And renewable fuel mandates are driving the consumption of ethanol by cars and trucks."

The overall energy use in the U.S. for 2010 equaled to 98 quads compared to the 94.6 quads used in 2009.

Most of the energy used was tied to coal, natural gas, and petroleum.

(See Energy Use Breakdown in Graphic to the right or in text below)

Energy Use Linked with Economy

Energy system analyst, A.J. Simon told Medical Daily that both total energy use and fossil energy use track with the level of economic activity in the U.S.

“As the economy rebounded (somewhat) in 2010, use of energy increased,” said Simon in an email interview with Medical Daily.

“Most of the coal we use is mined domestically,” he said.

“Therefore, increased use of coal comes with an increase in activity in the mining sector. An increase in coal use also comes with an increase in the total amount of pollutants emitted that are associated with coal combustion.”

While much of U.S. oil is imported, Simon explained that the increase in oil use accompanies an increase in the country’s trade deficit as the U.S. purchases more oil from other countries.

“Oil consumption is also the largest contributor to our greenhouse gas emissions.”

Simon said as most of U.S. natural gas is produced domestically, consumption has been rising as production prices have been falling.

“Prices have fallen due to better technology to extract natural gas from underground,” he said.

Where are these fossil fuels being used the most?

Energy use in the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation arenas also rose.

The majority of energy use in 2010 was used for electricity generation, 39.49 quads, followed by transportation, industrial, residential and commercial consumption, the authors wrote.

According to the chart, the use of coal, petroleum (oil), and natural gas are used in the electricity production, residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors.

“Roughly speaking, most coal is used to produce electricity, which in turn is consumed roughly equally among the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Most oil is used to produce fuels for the transportation sector. And natural gas is used just about everywhere,” said Simon.

Over the past six years, gas use in the electric sector has increased 25 percent while petroleum fuels continue to dominate the transportation sector.

The authors explained how coal was the major player in producing electricity, as in previous years, with nuclear and natural gas coming in second and third, but natural gas consumption by the electric sector grew 0.5 quads this year, driven by consistently low natural gas prices.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one metric ton of CO2 emissions is equivalent to 37.8 propane cylinders used for home barbecues or 2.1 barrels of oil consumed.

With the use of renewable energy increasing over the years Simon says the “most striking and recent” example is wind energy, which has grown by a factor of 10 times over the last 10 years.

What is expected for future energy use?

While there numerous answers to this question, Simon explained that a “business as usual” scenario is used, which shows steady increases in total energy use accompanied by increases in both fossil and renewable energy resources.

But Simon says that alternative scenarios exist, and “adoption of non-fossil resources (renewable, nuclear, etc.) will be heavily influenced by regulations and incentives.”

Energy Data Breakdown:

A breakdown of the U.S. energy use by sources in quads is as follows:
1 quad = 1 quadrillion (10 to the 15th power)British Thermal Units (BTU)

Solar - 0.11

Nuclear - 8.44

Hydro - 2.51

wind - 0.92

Geothermal - 0.21

Natural Gas 24.65

Coal - 20.82

Biomass - 4.29

Petroleum - 35.97