This result mainly reflects the steady decline in the amount of coal used to generate electricity over the past decade and the increase in the use of renewable energy, mainly wind and solar. Compared to 2018, U.S. coal consumption is down nearly 15% and total renewable energy consumption is up 1%.
Historically, wood was the main source of energy in the United States until the mid-nineteenth century, and was the commercial source of renewable energy in the United States until the first hydroelectric power plants began generating electricity in the 1880s. Coal was used as fuel for steam boats and trains in the early 1800s and in steel production, and later in the 1880s to produce electricity. Early estimates of energy use date back to 1635.
The EIA converts energy sources into common units of heat called British Forward Units (Btu), which compare different types of energy given in different units (barrels, cubic feet, tons, kilowatt hours, etc.). EIA uses equivalent fossil fuels to calculate the power consumption of renewable energy sources such as air, water, solar and geothermal energy.
In 2019, U.S. coal consumption fell to 11.3 quadrillion Btu for the sixth year in a row, the lowest level since 1964. Power generation from coal has declined significantly in the last decade and in 2019 is the lowest in 42 years. Consumption of natural gas in the electricity sector has increased significantly in recent years and has shifted some power generation from coal-fired power plants.
Total U.S. renewable energy consumption increased to 11.5 trillion Btu in 2019 for the fourth year in a row. Since 2015, the development of renewable energy in the United States has largely been attributed to the use of wind and solar power in power plants. In 2019, wind power generation surpassed hydropower for the first time and is now the most widely used renewable energy source annually for power generation in the United States.
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