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Where Does the World’s Energy Come From?

The Choose Energy Team
By The Choose Energy Team May 13th, 2015
For business

World Energy Consumption

In 2012, our planet consumed, in total, 524 quadrillion BTUs (British Thermal Units) of energy. On average that works out to 74 million BTUs per person. The average American, however, consumed roughly 297 million BTUs of energy per person, nearly five times more than the average. In total, America accounts for 18% of the world’s energy consumption.

Energy comes in two types: renewable and non-renewable.

Learn More: What is a BTU?

Non-Renewable Energy Sources

Non-renewable energy includes fossil fuels and nuclear power. Currently, 84% of the world’s energy comes from fossil fuel sources.


Coal is one of the main sources of fossil fuel energy. Roughly 146 quadrillion BTUs of coal were consumed worldwide in 2012. That means about 30% of the world’s energy comes from coal. Additionally, coal generates over 40% of the world’s electricity and over 70% of the world’s steel production.


Oil is the leading source of global energy consumption. The world consumed over 181 quadrillion BTUs of energy in 2012, which is about 35% of the total global energy consumption.

Natural Gas

Natural gas is one of the fastest growing sources of non-renewable energy. In 2012, the world consumed 123 quadrillion BTUs of natural gas, which means that natural gas makes up one quarter of total global energy consumption. That number is expected to rise since natural gas is projected to become the main source of energy in the United States over the next 50 years.   


Nuclear is another growing source of non-renewable energy. One of the main benefits of nuclear power is that it’s clean burning. In 2012, global nuclear generation was 8.3 quadrillion BTUs, which is about 5% of the total global energy.

Renewable Energy Sources

Renewable energy is the second category of energy sources. In contrast to fossil fuels, which are finite, renewable energy is naturally abundant and self-replenishing. There are two categories of renewable energy: hydropower and non-hydroelectric sources, which include solar, wind, biomass, tidal, and geothermal. In total, renewable energy accounted for 13% of total US energy consumption in 2013.


Hydropower, also called hydroelectric, is the energy generated by falling water. One example of a hydropower generating facility is the Hoover Dam.  Hydroelectric generated 11.7 quadrillion BTUs of energy in 2010, which is about 16.1% of total global electricity consumption.

Non-Hydroelectric Renewables

Non-hydroelectric renewable sources are the sources we tend to think of when we think renewables; for example- geothermal, biomass, wind & solar. These sources of renewable energy are poised for dramatic future growth. In 2011, non-hydroelectric energy sources accounted for 45 quadrillion BTUs of total global energy generation, or about 2% of the global energy.

Energy sources vary primarily by geographic constraints. For example, a country that’s located atop a large coal deposit will typically generate most of it’s energy from coal. Similarly, if a country has lots of water, hydroelectric will be the leading source of energy.

Further Reading

Sources of Energy and How It Actually Works

What is 100% Renewable Energy?

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