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U.S. Energy Use Fell 4.5% in 2009

Americans are using less energy overall and making more use of renewable energy resources, according to a report released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

According to the report, the U.S. used significantly less coal and petroleum in 2009 than in 2008, and significantly more wind power. There also was a decline in natural gas use and increases in solar, hydro and geothermal power according to the most recent LLNL energy flow charts.

“Energy use tends to follow the level of economic activity, and that level declined last year. At the same time, higher efficiency appliances and vehicles reduced energy use even further,” said A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst who develops the energy flow charts using data provided by the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. “As a result, people and businesses are using less energy in general.”

Estimated U.S. energy use in 2009 declined by approximately 4.5 percent from 2008, LLNL reported. Energy use in the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation arenas all declined by 1.95, 1.06, 9.92 and 3.27 percent, respectively.

Wind power used for primary power generation increased dramatically in 2009 by 37.25 percent from 2008 levels. Most of that energy is tied directly to electricity generation and thus helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production.

“The increase in renewables is a really good story, especially in the wind arena,” Simon said. “It’s a result of very good incentives and technological advancements. In 2009, the technology got better and the incentives remained relatively stable. The investments put in place for wind in previous years came online in 2009. Even better, there are more projects in the pipeline for 2010 and beyond.”

The significant decrease in coal used to produce electricity can be attributed to three factors: overall lower electricity demand, a fuel shift to natural gas, and an offset created by more wind power production, Simon said.

Nuclear energy use remained relatively flat in 2009. No new plants were added or taken offline, and the existing fleet operated at slightly lower levels than in 2008.

Of the total power consumed by Americans in 2009, 42.25 percent ended up as energy services, according to the report. These services, such as lighting and machinery output, are harder to estimate than fuel consumption, Simon said.

The ratio of energy services to the total amount of energy used is a measure of the country’s energy efficiency, the report said.

Carbon emissions data are expected to be released by LLNL later this year, but Simon suspects they will tell a similar story.

“The reduction in the use of natural gas, coal and petroleum is commensurate with a reduction in carbon emissions,” he said. “Simply said, people are doing less stuff. Therefore, they’re burning less fuel.”

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