Tuesday, June 4, 2013

US Ends Using Oil To Make Electricity: Is Transportation Next?

Addictions of any sort are hard to break, and President George W. Bush famously described the US as addicted to oil.  Well, it is time to give Uncle Sam real credit for breaking his oil addiction, at least for using oil to make electricity.

As recently as 1973, the US used large amounts of oil to make electricity, but Uncle Sam has cut by 94% his consumption of oil to keep our national lights on.  Consumption fell from 3,515 to 218 trillion BTU.

How did Uncle Sam break his addiction to oil for making power? He found better substitutes.

From 1973 to 1993, coal and nuclear power was largely responsible for replacing oil to make electricity.  Starting around 1990, natural gas also began to reduce the use of oil to make electricity, and the substitution of gas for oil picked up pace with the shale gas revolution around 2006.  In recent years, growing renewable energy generation has contributed as well.

America's experience in getting off oil for making electricity shows the oil addiction can be beat.  And what has already happened with the use of oil to make power has started in transportation.

Oil consumption for transportation peaked in 2007 at 28,335 trillion BTU.  By 2012, oil usage in transportation had fallen to 25,800 trillion BTU or a decline of nearly 10%.  The decline is a function of better fuel efficiency in vehicles, a decline in miles traveled, and growing oil substitutes for transportation like natural gas, electricity, and biofuels.

It took 40 years for America to break its oil addiction for making electricity, and it will take at least that long to do the same in transportation.  But the data show the addiction to oil for moving around is already weakening.

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