US Energy Consumption
In previous installments we looked at the high cost of energy consumption and how we Americans consume much more energy than other nations with similar economies. In this installment we will explore where all this energy goes. The general idea is that we must understand where our greatest opportunities for savings are.
Our dwindling supply of oil still dominates our energy consumption which continues to drive prices up. Sending more than $1B every day offshore to places like the Middle East and Venezuela is not good for our economy or our national security. The following graph of US petroleum production and imports along with price1 illustrates our increasing dependence on foreign oil and the law of supply and demand.
Notice that price spikes are associated with a decline in consumption and how sensitive prices are to decreased consumption. Notice also that US oil production has decreased since the peak that Hubert predicted in 1970. The main point is that the continued increase in oil imports spells disaster for the US economy. We are now at the point of decreasing worldwide oil production as illustrated in the graph below.2 If you are really optimistic, the peak in world energy production may not occur for a few years but there is no question that consumption will continue to increase worldwide. Advanced technology will continue to improve our ability to extract fossil fuels from dwindling reserves but higher prices are guaranteed.
To prepare for the inevitability of higher energy prices we must understand where all this energy is used. The following chart illustrates in broad terms how we use energy in the US.
As individuals we have direct control over residential and transportation and some influence over commercial and industrial energy consumption. It is important to understand how the energy we consume is used so that we might achieve the greatest energy savings. Let’s start with industrial energy consumption. The chart below illustrates how we consume energy in US industry.
Industrial Energy Consumption in the US
The most startling fact is that the largest fraction of the energy we consume in the industrial sector is for refining petroleum! It takes a lot of energy to produce the energy we need for the rest of our economy and this will dramatically increase as reserves continue to dwindle. Note that agriculture is included in the industrial sector “other” category and consumes about 1.3% of total US energy.3 Although food production is very energy intensive in the US, it contributes a small fraction of our total energy consumption. Note also that food transportation is included in the transportation sector, not the industrial sector. We will discuss ways to conserve the massive amounts of energy we consume in the industrial sector in future installments of this series but the main take-away from this discussion is that energy production is a huge contributor to energy consumption. This is a vicious cycle that is only good economically if you are a net energy exporter which the US is not.
Commercial Energy Consumption in the US
Commercial energy consumption includes shopping malls, hotels, office buildings, etc. The following illustrations show where the energy is used and the sources it comes from. Heating is the largest use of energy and even more so in the Northeast than this graph of total US commercial consumption would indicate. The good news is that natural gas, a relatively clean and abundant resource in the US, contributes 32% compared to only 3% for oil.
Residential Energy Consumption in the US
Residential energy consumption is similar to commercial but we use a larger percentage of natural gas to heat our homes. Look at the illustrations below as a guideline for the best ways to conserve energy in our homes.
Transportation Energy Consumption in the US
The transportation sector is dominated by petroleum products and personal vehicles.
Most of the automobile, light truck, and aircraft fuel consumption is used for personal transportation. Note that natural gas represents only 2% of transportation energy used. If you could fill your tank with fuel at $0.60/gallon instead of $4/gallon would you do it? This is the current cost of natural gas for the equivalent energy of a gallon of gasoline and yet we do very little to take advantage of this opportunity.
We are at a crucial time in history were we need to choose if we want to remain victims of high energy prices or the masters of our own destiny. Are we hostages to foreign oil or can we make some intelligent choices about how we use, or more importantly how we don’t use our energy resources? We are so accustomed to cheap energy that we think we are entitled to it. The only thing we are entitled to is the right to shape our own destiny, provided that we are smart enough to try.
Now that we have some background for where our energy comes from and how it is used, we can now explore ways to improve the way we use energy. In the next installment of this series we will look at how much of the energy we consume is wasted. In future installments we will investigate small steps we can take to reclaim some of the massive amounts of energy we waste. Energy conservation is our greatest resource!
Note: This series is based on a presentation I have given. I welcome opportunities to deliver it personally to groups of 20 or more. If your group is interested, please contact me through the Member email.
Dave Hauber is Director of Technology at Automated Dynamics in Schenectady, NY. He has over 40 years of experience in advanced materials, composites, textile R&D, control systems, robotics, lasers, ultrasonics, and industrial automation. BS Physics and MA Business. He lives in Troy, NY. He can be reached through Member email or commenting here.
1. http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/11/peak-oil-perspective/ (from EIA data)