Office of Fossil Energy

Fossil Fuels Power the Winter Season

December 19, 2018

You are here

Photo of snow in the winter

The holiday  season is filled with a great deal of warmth and light—not only from the joy and generosity that the season brings, but also from the start of darker, colder days, which require significantly more heat and electricity to keep homes warm and illuminated.

Although winter is barely underway, many Americans have already been feeling the freeze brought on by recent winter storms.  Since Thanksgiving, the Northeast, Midwest, Mid Atlantic, South, Rocky Mountains, and Great Plains have all experienced significant winter storms bringing cold temperatures and energy disruptions.

Not only does December bring winter storms, it also brings the holiday season, resulting in Americans using more energy. Heating our homes, decorating with holiday lights, cooking large meals—all of these can cause spikes in residential energy usage.

This increased demand requires a steady and reliable energy supply, and fossil fuels play an important role in meeting that demand. In fact, nearly half of all U.S. households use natural gas to heat their homes, and another 5 percent of households use home heating oil, while 5 percent of homes use propane.

Electricity accounts for another 40 percent of home heating, and fossil fuels are the primary fuel source for generating electricity. For instance, in 2017, fossil fuels were among the most-used sources for electricity generation in 35 states. In 18 of those states, coal provided the greatest share of fuel for generating electricity.

This need for more heating and electricity can put a strain on the electric grid—especially during extreme weather events. But, fossil fuels provide a stable source of power generation to keep the grid up and running.  And should severe storms disrupt the delivery of home heating fuels, the Energy Department has programs in place to help.

For example, the Office of Fossil Energy’s Office of Petroleum Reserves is home to the Northeast Home Heating Oil Reserve (NEHHOR). The NEHHOR is a 1 million barrel supply of diesel that serves as an extra supply of heating oil for homes and businesses in northeastern United States in the event of a supply disruption. Since most homes that use heating oil are located in the northeastern United States, the NEHHOR provides those residents with a reserve supply of heating oil that can be released under certain conditions.

To learn more about how fossil fuels help power American homes and businesses during the holidays and throughout the winter season, visit the Office of Fossil Energy website.