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Just Energy Facts – Source, Consumption and Waste!

October 24, 2011

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) and their Energy Information Administration (EIA) commissioned the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) to develop an flow chart of U.S. Energy Trends for 2009. This exercise was a logical extension of similar studies previously conducted by LLNL for the DoE /EIA. The results of this study can be found in the Annual Energy Review 2009, Released August 2010 DOE/EIA-0384(2010).

The utility of these charts lays in the integration of all energy sources to consumption by all energy sections on a single page. This is possible by using BTU-equivalent values from non-thermal resources, such as wind, solar and hydro, used to generate electricity.  Another unique unit of energy expressed in the charts is “Quad,” where a quad of energy equal to 1015 (a short-scale quadrillion) BTU, or 1.055 × 1018 joules (1.055 exajoules or EJ) in SI units. To give a more useful measure of a Quad of energy, 1 Quad is equal to:
• 8,007,000,000 – Gallons (US) of gasoline
• 293,083,000,000 – Kilowatt-hours (kWh)
• 36,000,000 – Tonnes of coal
• 970,434,000,000 – Cubic feet of natural gas
• 25,200,000 – Tonnes of oil

Another way to think of a Quad of energy is to compare it to the number of households. For example, the U.S. Census Bureau reported there were about 113.5 million households in the U.S. in 2009. According to LLNL’s Energy chart, the U.S. consumed 94.6 Quads of energy in 2009. Therefore, for 2009 only, 1 Quad of Energy was used by about 1.2 million households.

At first glance, the charts look rather complex. Though after a careful review, the information becomes self-evident, see following Energy Flow Chart for 2009.

The chart indicates:

• The Big Three Fossil Fuels, Petroleum, Natural Gas and Coal, makeup about 83% of all the sources of Energy consumed in the U.S. in 2009, see below.

Note: Totals above and below may not equal the sum of the components due to independent rounding.

• The Big Three consumers of energy were Electrical Generation, Transportation and Industrial, see below.

Note: Some double counting exits due to Electrical Generation being both a consumer and supplier of energy.

• Primary fuels consumed by each sector includes:
• Electricity Generation – Coal (48%) and Nuclear (22%).
• Transportation – Petroleum (94%).
• Industrial – Petroleum (36%) and Natural Gas (35%).
• Residential – Natural Gas (43%) and Electricity (41%).
• Commercial – Electricity (53%) and Natural Gas (37%).

By far the biggest surprise in LLNL’s chart was the overall efficiency of the generated energy. “Rejected Energy” or wasted energy was shown to constitute over half of the raw energy generated in the U.S. It is believed that most of this wasted or unproductive energy is lost in the form of heat. Maybe another cause for global warming, half joking!

It would seem that more efficient ways to consume fuels would go a long way in establishing a sustainable economy and conversely reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. In fact the DoE is doing just that. Though still paltry, $2.0 billion (4.7%) of the DoE’s 2012 budget request to congress is earmarked for energy efficiency programs. Renewable energy programs are allocated only $1.2 billion (2.2 %) for 2012.

Today’s energy pathway is probably not exactly the same as 2009. However the general supply and usage patterns are consider to be in the same ballpark.

It may not be wise to substitute one fossil fuel for another. The transportation industry that is so reliant on petroleum may benefit by converting over to natural gas, which is both cleaner and an abundant domestic resource base. Same thing goes for electricity generation; getting rid of dirty coal for cleaner natural gas is a good interim solution.

From a renewable energy basis, biomass and waste-to-energy programs may yield the highest returns in the near-term. Solar and wind are still too capital intensive, required costly storage systems to make them reliable 24/7, generally require transmission and distribution lines, and geographically constrained to make a major impact on our economy.

In closing, we all need to do our part in using energy wisely to free us from dirty and imported fossil fuels, become energy independent and ensure a cleaner environment.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Alan permalink
    October 27, 2011 4:30 AM

    I agree that the biggest surprise was the waste of energy. The 2 biggest being:

    1. inefficient transportation – c. 80% of energy is wasted due to the internal combustion engine as well as heavy vehicles transporting light people.

    2. waste of electricity generated – over 2/3 (26/38) is wasted!!! Incredible. I presume that much of this waste is due to the low demand at night when most power plants are still run at full power – particularly coal, nuclear and gas plants. So a simple solution would be to replace more of these with renewables – solar/wind/biomass and don’t worry about storage… solar produces during the day and that’s really when most demand is. If we can shut down some more coal plants then our energy wastage would reduce. A no-brainer really.

    A really great graphic that certainly brings to light some very interesting data and more paths for further investigation. Good stuff!

  2. Alan permalink
    October 28, 2011 4:24 AM

    Keep up the good work. I will have a more detailed look at the EVs article soon… but one thought (simplistic as it may be) springs to mind immediately – if we didn’t waste 26.10 quads from electricity generation, they could be used to replace the 26 or so that are used for petroleum-based transportation.

    Actually, it’s even better than that… if we used electric cars that are much more efficient energy-wise, we only need to replace the 6.74 quads that are effectively used by the current internal combustion engine powered vehicles.

    The more one looks at these diagrams the more interesting it becomes! We could get rid of coal-fired electricity generation entirely (which would leave electricity with c. 20 quads), replace our petroleum-based transportation with electric, and still have some left over. i.e. our effective electricity production would be c. 20 quads, with 12.08 being utilised, and the current effective utilisation of 6.74 quads for transportation being replaced by electric vehicles.

  3. December 26, 2011 9:41 PM

    Alan, you obviously are a “coal hater” from your two comments. Coal, nuclear, and natural gas provide our base load needs 24/7. Of these three, natural gas is most easily dispatchable, ramping up and down to meet demand. That’s what happens during the day, along with hyrdo to a certain extent, to meet load following demands. To have either solar or wind be a major player in meeting these two demands in our grid would mean carpeting our America the Beautiful “from sea to shining sea” with arrays of solar and forests of industrial wind turbines and wreck the economy by mandating the least efficient, least energy-dense, and most costly forms of electricity production. If we just diverted, for example, the section 1603 ARRA funds wasted on renewables to creating a far smarter grid and reducing electricity waste, we would dramatically reduce demand and phase out the coal plants you loathe.


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