United States - Energy and power



The United States is the world's leading energy producer and consumer. With about 4.6% of the world's population, the United States consumed 24.3% of the world's energy in 1995. In 2002, US coal production was an estimated 1.98 billion short tons. Natural gas production was 552 billion cu m (19.5 trillion cu ft); oil production was 8.1 million barrels per day in the first nine months of 2002. Conventional thermal sources provided the greatest share of energy consumed in 2001: coal supplied 23%, natural gas 23%, and petroleum 39%. The rest was supplied by nuclear power, hydroelectric power, and renewable energy sources including geothermal, wind, photovoltaic, and wood and waste. Increased use of natural gas was the most spectacular development in the commercial marketing of fuel after World War II (1939–45); between 1950 and the peak in 1975, its share of total US energy production doubled from 20% to 40%; since then, production has stabilized at just under 30%.

Mineral fuel production in the United States dates to the early 1800s; by 1810–19 US coal production was about 230,000 tons, and fuelwood production equivalent to 26 million tons of coal. In 1854, a refinery opened in Brooklyn, New York, to process shale and coal to kerosene. In 1859, the United States recorded its first oil production, and in 1870, John D. Rockefeller established the Standard Oil Company in Cleveland, Ohio; the company controlled 90% of the Western oil market from 1880 to 1910, and was split into 33 independent companies in 1911 under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Proved reserves of crude oil totaled an estimated 22.4 billion barrels at the start of 2002. Reserves of natural gas were about 5 trillion cu m (177 trillion cu ft) at the beginning of 2002, equivalent to more than 3% of the world's proved reserves. Recoverable coal reserves amounted to 275.1 billion tons at the end of 1998 (46% anthracite and bituminous), more than 20% of the world's total. The 1973 Arab oil embargo and subsequent fuel shortages prompted a host of governmental measures aimed at increasing development of oil and gas resources, including an easing of restrictions on oil drilling on the continental shelf. Since the mid-1980s, net petroleum imports have risen from 4.29 million barrels per day in 1985 to 10.3 million barrels daily in 2002, exceeding the record level of 8.56 million barrels per day set in 1977.

In 2000, public utilities and private industrial plants generated 3,802 billion kWh of electricity, of which 70.8% was from fossil fuels, 7.2% from hydropower, 19.8% from nuclear power, and 2.2% from other sources. Conventional steam and internal combustion plants produced most of the electricity. Coal accounted for 60% of generation by public utilities, nuclear power 20%, natural gas 10%, hydroelectricity 7%, oil 3%, and other sources less than 1%. Consumption of electricity in 2000 was 3.6 trillion kWh. Installed generating capacity at electric utilities totaled 812.7 million kW in 2001.

In 1957 the nuclear portion of domestic electricity generation accounted for less than 0.05% of the nation's total. By the mid-1990s it represented about 20% and, after a decline in the late 1990s, reached a similar level again in 2001, when nuclear power generation hit a record 769 billion kWh. The number of operable nuclear power units peaked at 112 units in 1990 but had declined to 104 by 2002. In 2000 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted its first-ever renewal of a nuclear facility's operating license, sending a positive message to the nuclear power industry, whose future had been in doubt since the 1980s due to cost and safety problems. In July 2002 the US Congress approved the creation of a permanent nuclear waste disposal site at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

During the 1980s, increasing attention was focused on the development of solar power, synthetic fuels, geothermal resources, and other energy technologies. Such energy conservation measures as mandatory automobile fuel-efficiency standards and tax incentives for home insulation were promoted by the federal government, which also decontrolled oil and gas prices in the expectation that a rise in domestic costs to world-market levels would provide a powerful economic incentive for consumers to conserve fuel. In 2001 the United States had 1,694 MW of installed wind power.

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