Energy in America: The Sources of Energy That Power America

Have you ever thought about where the energy comes from that makes our high quality of life possible? Did you know that about 85% of our energy comes from Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power? Below is a graphic prepared by the U.S. Department of Energy illustrating the fuel sources for electric power generation in the U.S. during 2016.


What may not be readily apparent in the 2016 energy generation figure is the significant reliance U.S. power generation has on its Thermal Power Plants, a topic covered extensively in Williamson’s upcoming July 2018 course. Over 86% of America’s electric power generation is from Thermal Power Plants. That is because Fossil Fuels, Nuclear, Bio-Mass and Geothermal all use steam or gas turbines as the prime movers for large electric generators.

When total energy is considered, individual Americans use approximately 300 million BTU’s each year. Most of this primary energy is used for transportation. The graph below, depicting U.S. primary energy production, this is provided by DOE/EIA.

Heat Engines, to include steam and gas turbines that turn electric generators at central station power plants, are also used in transportation. Heat engines include diesel truck engines used for transporting products on the highways, gasoline engines for our automobiles, jet engines for airline transportation, geothermal steam turbines, and bio-mass (wood waste) powered steam turbines for power generation. Each American utilizes on average, about 300 million BTUs of heat energy each year. The graphic below helps illustrate our reliance on heat engines as a primary energy source.

The graphic highlights what 300.3 million BTUs is equivalent to in various fuels. We may not think about the “Power Behind the Plug” when we turn up our air conditioner or when we board a jet airliner, but each of us Americans consume a variety of different fuels each year: diesel, jet fuel, coal, bio-mass, propane, gasoline and renewable power. The data represented is from 2016 compiled by the U.S. Department of Energy. The country’s energy consumption has dropped since 2007 from 101 quadrillion BTUs to about 97.4 quadrillion BTUs. This is partially due to deindustrialization of our economy (manufacturing demanding less) and partly due to energy efficiency improvements. As the population has grown, the total energy consumption has held fairly constant at a rounded off 100 quadrillion BTUs per year.

A topic of interest within Williamson’s July 2018 course is an exploration into how Fossil Fuels are used for generating electric power. The course’s four power plant field trips in addition to the campus’ own Energy Island initiative will provide a unique experience in exploring this field. Williamson’s Energy Island program is a micro-grid capable of efficiently generating all of the electricity and heating steam energy for the entire campus. Through this, Williamson uses approximately 350-450 kWh of electricity, including a Solar Array that is capable of producing about 90 kW on a sunny day.

Thank you for joining me in this short discussion on Energy Sources in America. Next month’s newsletter is entitled “Heat Engines and Thermal Power. Did you Ever Think About the Power Behind the Devices That Make Our Lives So Good?”

Richard F. (Dick) Storm, PE, CEM

I’d like more information about Williamson’s 2018
Introduction to Thermal Power Plants course!

2017-11-17T09:57:50-05:00 November 16th, 2017|