With the July 4th weekend about to begin, the U.S. Energy Information Administration decided to take a look back at the founding of our country. So it charted the country’s energy use starting in 1776. Most of the result is no surprise: Biomass had a long run before fossil fuels took over and remained at the top. But recent years have seen the biggest change since nuclear was added to the mix.
Biomass spent nearly a century at the top of the US energy mix before being displaced by coal, though it never provided more than four quadrillion Btu (each Btu is just over 1,000 Joules). But biomass never completely disappeared, and the resurgence this century takes it to its highest level ever. With nuclear power holding steady and renewable energy rising nearly to par with hydropower, fossil fuels are poised to fall below 80 percent of the U.S. energy mix.
Fossil fuels haven’t been this low in over a century.
The comeback of biomass is mirrored by the decline of coal. Coal was the dominant form of energy in the US for about 75 years, until the advent of automobiles allowed petroleum to displace it. It saw another rise as the power grid expanded from the 1960s, and the percentage of coal’s mix continued to grow even as nuclear power expanded dramatically. But coal has fallen dramatically in recent years, partly due to a huge increase in the use of natural gas.
The EIA also includes projections up to 2040, but these are usually of limited use as they assume no additional energy policies will be introduced. They also often miss rapid changes, such as the plunge in photovoltaic panel prices. Nevertheless, projections suggest that fossil fuel use will drop below 80 percent before the end of this decade.