This article presents an assessment of energy inputs of the European Union (the 15 countries before the 2004 enlargement, abbreviated EU‐15) for the period 1970–2001 and the United States for 1980–2000. The data are based on an energy flow analysis (EFA) that evaluates socioeconomic energy flows in a way that is conceptually consistent with current materials flow analysis (MFA) methods. EFA allows assessment of the total amount of energy required by a national economy; it yields measures of the size of economic systems in biophysical units. In contrast to conventional energy balances, which only include technically used energy, EFA also accounts for socioeconomic inputs of biomass; that is, it also considers food, feed, wood and other materials of biological origin. The energy flow accounts presented in this article do not include embodied energy. Energy flow analyses are relevant for comparisons across modes of subsistence (e.g., agrarian and industrial society) and also to detect interrelations between energy utilization and land use. In the EU‐15, domestic energy consumption (DEC = apparent consumption = domestic extraction plus import minus export) grew from 60 exajoules per year (1 EJ = 1018 J) in 1970 to 79 EJ/yr in 2001, thus exceeding its territory's net primary production (NPP, a measure of the energy throughput of ecosystems). In the United States, DEC increased from 102 EJ/yr in 1980 to 125 EJ/yr in 2000 and was thus slightly smaller than its NPP. Taken together, the EU‐15 and the United States accounted for about 38% of global technical energy use, 31% of humanity's energetic metabolism, but only 10% of global terrestrial NPP and 11% of world population in the early 1990s. Per capita DEC of the United States is more than twice that of the EU‐15. Calculated according to EFA methods, energy input in the EU and the United States was between one‐fifth and one‐third above the corresponding value reported in conventional energy balances. The article discusses implications of these results for sustainability, as well as future research needs.