Americans continue to increase their reliance on natural gas for their energy needs. Flush with new production obtained by fracking, natural gas use expanded 4.4% from 2011 to 2012 and is up 9.1% since 2008, according to new data from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Much of the increase comes from power plants converting to natural gas from coal in response to cheaper gas prices, said A.J. Simon, an energy systems analyst at the lab. The industrial price of natural gas has been around $5 per 1,000 cubic feet for more than 3 years–less than half of the 2008 high of $12.11.
The switch to natural gas has environmental benefits as well. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, generating electricity with natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide and less than a third as much nitrogen oxide as coal.
The other growing sources of of energy in the US are wind, solar, and geothermal. From 2011 to 2012, Americans derived 190 trillion BTUs more energy from wind power and 77 trillion BTU from solar—increases of 16.2% and 48.7%, respectively. Geothermal only grew by 1 trillion BTU, or 0.44%.
The large increases in these energy sources continue the trend of the last 5 years. Since 2008, Americans’ increased their reliance on energy from wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass, and natural gas by 3.8 quadrillion BTUs while reducing its need for petroleum, nuclear, and coal by 8.0 quadrillion BTUs.
Even though the use of energy from natural gas, wind, and solar grew the fastest in 2012, more than half of America’s energy still comes from the dirtiest sources. In 2012, 55% of energy consumed in the US came from petroleum and coal. In fact, renewables made up less than 10% of the US energy mix last year.