US Energy History Visualization About Insights Contact

About this project

The U.S. Energy History Visualization project is motivated by proposals to transform the world’s energy and our belief that history matters: past U.S. energy transitions can help us understand our potential future path.

The interactive visualization shows 200 years of evolving energy use in America as an animated Sankey diagram. Line widths represent per capita energy flows each year from primary energy sources (left) to final uses (right). The project is an effort of University of Chicago’s Center for Robust Decision-making on Climate and Energy Policy (RDCEP), and its research is documented in Suits, Matteson, and Moyer, 2020, “Energy Transitions in U.S. History: 1800–2019” and its extensive supporting information. (This paper is currently under peer review and is available here as a preprint.) See also for further information. Data are available on request.


  • Mouse over the flows for values of individual fuel streams.
  • Drag the timeline slider to control the animation by hand.
  • Black circles along the timeline mark “milestone” years of special interest; click these to open up additional information.
  • The stacked bar chart at bottom shows the evolution of energy usage by sector or by fuel type, as either fractional, per capita, or absolute usage.
  • Click “hide electricity waste heat” to see the diagram without tracking energy lost during electricity generation.

  • Settings

  • Energy flows are given in per capita units, as Watts per person of primary energy. (Absolute units are less informative since the U.S. population grew by 60× over this period.)
  • The default animation accounts for all energy used, so that the total area of left and right sides of the diagram are equal. To ensure this we track the waste heat of electricity generated with steam or gas turbines and allocate it proportionately to sectors.
  • Note that we assign all non-thermal electricity generation (hydro, wind, and solar PV) an efficiency of 100% (zero waste). These primary energy flows should then be interpreted with care, since each produces roughly 3× as much electricity per unit primary energy as do thermal sources (gas, coal, oil, nuclear, and geothermal).

  • Contributors. This project is led by Liz Moyer, U. Chicago Dept. of the Geophysical Sciences and RDCEP. The research lead is Robert Suits, U. Chicago Dept. of History. Graphics were built by Nathan Matteson, DePaul University College of Computing and Digital Media, and members of U. Chicago’s Research Computation Center, including Ramesh Nair, Milson Munakami, Kalyan Reddy Reddivari, Sergio Elahi, and Prathyusharani Merla, with the assistance of Benjamin Kleeman, DePaul University.

    Context. This animation is part of our larger effort to assess and visualize energy usage and energy history. See also our projection on the value of U.S. long-lived energy infrastructure at We are currently expanding both tools to allow users to add data and create their own visualizations, and are animating energy use in China from the 1980s.

    License. Licensed for public use under the Apache License, Version 2.0. You may not use this file except in compliance with the License. Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software distributed under the License is distributed on an as-is basis, without warranties or conditions of any kind, either express or implied. See the License for the specific language governing permissions and limitations under the License.

    Comments, questions, and suggestions are welcome; send to See “Contact” page for information on data use and potential collaborations.