Renewables boom; Total U.S. energy consumption inches up

U.S. renewable energy consumption, 2000-2016. Courtesy EIA

Total energy consumption in the United States increased slightly last year over 2015, pushed largely by a boom in solar, wind and hydro-electric power, according to the Department of Energy.

Consumption of coal decreased by 9 percent to 730 million short tons, the third consecutive year of declines, and nearly offset the increase in renewables, according to a new report from the department’s Energy Information Administration.

Fossil fuels continue to account for the bulk of U.S. energy consumption — 81 percent, slightly lower than 2015 levels and well below the 86 percent they represented in 2005.

Still, the use of petroleum and natural gas both increased in 2016. Crude consumption jumped to 19.6 million barrels per day, buoyed by the transportation sector. Natural gas use leaped to 27.5 billion cubic feet, led by the electric power and industrial sectors — though its use fell slightly in residential and commercial buildings, thanks to a warm winter.

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Nuclear fuel use also increased, but just 1 percent. Year-end capacity was up slightly.

Renewables posted the largest increase. Solar energy consumption boomed by more than 37 percent, according to the report. Wind generation jumped nearly 20 percent. And hydroelectric increased by 7 percent as the West Coast recovered from severe drought conditions.

Together, the three made up 91 percent of the increase in renewable power use.