The manufacturing industry in the United States used 26% less energy in 2018 as it did in 1998 despite increasing its output, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration.
For 61% of the businesses surveyed in the Manufacturing Energy Consumption Survey (MECS), energy consumption was becoming a higher priority or management supported projects to reduce energy consumption. Almost half of the companies say they are participating in general energy management activities.
The survey also found that most US manufacturing could not easily switch to renewables within a short timeframe, such as a 30-day period. They would need long-term plans that would require significant capital investment, such as purchasing new equipment.
Of the organizations surveyed, improved energy efficiency of lighting at facilities was the most common practice to make improvements. Primary metals and the plastics industries had the largest share of energy efficiency practices.
In addition to the 26% drop in energy consumption, the gross output in the manufacturing industry increased by 12% over that time, according to the EIA.
“US manufacturing is becoming more fuel efficient and less labor intensive,” says acting EIA Administrator Stephen Nalley. “US Manufacturers are producing more goods while consuming less energy, indicating that the sector overall has increased its energy efficiency.”
Most of the energy consumption comes from the chemical, petroleum and coal, paper and primary metals industries, according to the report. Natural gas and hydrocarbon gas liquids are the primary sources of energy consumption by the manufacturing industry. The survey showed electricity was the most expensive form of energy.
Use of natural and hydrocarbon gases increased from a total consumption of 43% in 2002 to 53% in 2018. The use of coal dropped in every cycle the EIA surveyed.
A report by the International Energy Agency earlier in 2021 found that hydrogen use is a key to hitting net zero by 2050 and that its use in the manufacturing industry is lagging up to this point.
The EIA data shows that switching from natural gas to another energy efficient source is not easy for manufacturing, mostly because of equipment limitations. It shows that 93% of natural gas use could not be switched to something else. Apparel and textiles had the smallest percentage of natural gas that could not be switched to another fuel, at around 55%.
The manufacturing industry also faces a shift in how it operates as it attempts to improve its efficiency and sustainability efforts. A report by Ericsson IndustryLab says 80% of manufacturing will be automated within the next decade, in large part to improve in these areas.
The EIA says that manufacturing is the only industry that uses energy as a nonfuel, also referred to as feedstock or raw material input. Nonfuel consumption is prevalent in the chemicals industry to produce plastics and nitrogenous fertilizers in addition to other products.
This was the 10th edition of the MECS, which the EIA has conducted approximately every four years since 1985. The 2018 MECS used a sample size of around 15,000 manufacturing organizations.