Fossil fuel consumption was at its lowest level in 30 years in 2020, while energy consumption from renewables hit a record high.
Oil, gas and coal still accounted for 79% of the total U.S. energy consumption, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The other 21% came from renewables and nuclear, the highest share since the early 1900s when wood was the primary renewable source of energy. Renewable energy consumption actually increased slightly in 2020, federal data show.
While 2020 was not a normal year, the data points to a changing U.S. energy landscape.
The decrease in fossil fuel consumption was in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. People were traveling less in 2020. It was also a warmer year overall in 2020, decreasing the demand for heating fuels.
Coal saw the biggest year-over-year drop. Coal consumption fell to the lowest annual share since 1949, falling 19% from 2019 to 2020. The number of producing coal mines also fell in 2020, and coal production fell to the lowest level since 1965.
In 2020, 151 coal mines idled or closed, a drop of 18% in the number of total producing mines. That leaves 370 active mines in the U.S, most of which are in Appalachia. The Appalachian region had 285 surface mines and 164 underground mines operating in 2020.
Consumption of renewable energy grew for a fifth year in a row, reaching 12% of total U.. energy consumption. It was the only source of energy consumption that increased in 2020 from the previous year.
The EIA expects the share of electricity generated by renewables, particularly wind and solar, to continue to increase in the next two years.
Wind is the top producer. of renewable energy, followed by hydroelectric power, wood and waste energy, biofuels and solar. For all the attention solar gets, it only accounted for about 11% of the U.S. renewable energy consumption in 2020, although its chunk of the energy pie has grown dramatically in the past several years.
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