Principal contributor: Michael Kopalek
Primary energy consumption fell slightly in 2015 as a decline in coal use exceeded increases in natural gas, petroleum, and renewables use. In most cases, changes between 2014 and 2015 reflect longer-term trends in energy use.
In 2015, natural gas consumption increased more than any other energy source, accounting for 29% of total primary energy consumption. As domestic natural gas production continues to reach record levels, natural gas prices have remained low. Low natural gas prices have led to increased use of natural gas-fired generators in the electric power sector.
Coal supplied 16% of total U.S. primary energy use in 2015, down from 18% in 2014. Coal consumption declined by more than 12% in 2015, and it is now at its lowest level since 1982. Nearly all coal is used for electricity generation. In 2015, demand for coal in the power sector reached its lowest level since 1987.
U.S. petroleum consumption grew in 2015, as lower gasoline and diesel prices led to increased vehicle travel. In addition, exports of U.S. petroleum products continue to grow, driven largely by demand in South and Central America. Crude oil exports continued to grow significantly in 2014 and averaged 458,000 barrels per day in 2015.
Renewable fuels use continued to grow in 2015, especially in the electric power sector. Both wind and solar generation expanded significantly, growing by 31% and 5%, respectively, in 2015. Increases in wind and solar were slightly offset by a decline in hydroelectric generation, which fell for the fourth consecutive year because of drought conditions on the West Coast.
Nuclear electric power remained relatively flat in 2015. Several nuclear plants retired in 2013 and 2014, but no nuclear plants either retired or came online in 2015. Nuclear outages were relatively low during the summer of 2015.