Coal leads nation’s growing energy use

The United States’ energy use is rebounding after a 2012 dip, with coal consumption leading the way, according to federal data released this week.

The nation used 52.8 quadrillion British thermal units of fossil fuel energy during the first eight months of the year, up 1.2 percent from the same period in 2012, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. From 2011 to 2012, consumption during the period dropped 15 percent.

Of all energy sources, coal consumption grew the most, jumping 5.4 percent to 12.1 quadrillion Btu.

Under the pressure of low natural gas prices and stiffer environmental regulations, coal lost popularity with utilities that sought cheaper and cleaner ways to produce electricity. However, natural gas has lost some of its luster as its price has risen this year.

U.S. natural gas began the year at about $3.35 per million British thermal units and rose as high as $4.41 per Btu during the year. While coal demand grew for the eight-month period, the nation’s natural gas consumption was level at about 17.5 quadrillion Btu.

A British thermal unit, which provides a common measure of energy from different kinds of fuel, is the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.

Petroleum remains the nation’s leading energy source, by far. Americans used 23.2 quadrillion Btu of petroleum from January to August, about the same amount as during those eight months in 2012. 

Renewable energy consumption grew 3.4 percent, but remains a relatively small portion of overall energy use at 6.3 quadrillion Btu during the eight month period. Renewable energy includes biomass, hydroelectric, wind, solar and geothermal energy.

Nuclear power accounted for 5.5 quadrillion Btu of U.S. energy consumption, up less than 1 percent from the January-August period in 2012.