We humans produce and consume lots of energy. In fact, our economies depend on the value derived from energy use. And yet, deep down we know that we lose significant value through waste. Of course, we accept some of this loss as a cost of doing business. Nevertheless, the US economy squanders more than 60% of its energy, much of it from fossil fuels. 60%! Meanwhile, our planet warms. Therefore, gaining energy awareness presents an opportunity to do something positive for the environment — even while we improve our own economic efficiency.
Some Numbers for Perspective
Because we use so much energy, the units to describe it stagger the best of us. Most commonly, we speak in terms of “quads.” To help conceive of this unit, one quad equals the energy from over eight BILLION (8,000,000,000) gallons of gasoline. Still struggling to imagine that? OK, let’s try again. One quad-worth of gasoline would fill ten typical NFL stadiums such as the 80,000-seat AT&T (Cowboys) Stadium in Dallas, TX. Wow.
Now, consider that we power the US economy with nearly 100 quads of energy annually. In other words, each year we consume the equivalent of 1,000 NFL stadiums filled to the brim with gasoline. And that number represents about one-fifth of the total energy used by all nations on the planet! Like we said: staggering.
Naturally, not all energy derives from gasoline. Common additional origins for energy include coal, natural gas, and other petroleum products. These sources as well as nuclear and renewable sources power our homes, businesses, industry, and transportation.
To help track these various sources and uses of energy, experts developed the Sankey diagram. Sankey diagrams use left-to-right lines to indicate the flow of energy and other resources. The size of these lines corresponds to the amount of what flows. Big lines indicate big flows; small lines indicate small flows.
Headlining this post, a recent Sankey diagram for US energy breaks out the nearly 100 quads annual US usage cited above. The boxes to the far left show the various primary sources of energy. The biggest lines flow from three primaries: petroleum (36 quads), natural gas (28 quads), and coal (14 quads). Together, these sources account for about 80% of energy production.
Energy powers our transportation, industrial, commercial, and residential needs. The pink boxes on the right side of the Sankey energy diagram show these end uses. As consumers, we exert direct control over our own transportation as well as what we consume in our homes.
For transportation, we best protect the environment through awareness of the energy spent driving. As seen in the diagram, most transportation results from burning petroleum products, most notably gasoline. The highly cost-conscious among us may already own vehicles with high gas mileage. However, even if we don’t, we receive an economic signal to limit our driving each time we fill up the gas tank!
Electricity to Carry Energy
In our homes and businesses, we draw energy from electricity as often as we do directly from primary sources. For many of us, natural gas heats our homes. However, apart from heating, most of the energy we consume arrives as electricity.
Clearly, electricity itself rarely exists in nature as a source for useful energy. Rather, electricity is a convenient energy carrier. As such, it must derive from a primary energy source. The Sankey diagram shows the chief sources for electrical power as coal, natural gas, and nuclear.
Alright: so much for sources, uses, and carriers: the “good” flow that provides services from energy. However, we agreed earlier about the need also to account for waste — the “bad” flow. Unfortunately, doing so shows waste as the most likely outcome for energy.
In the Sankey diagram, the light gray line of “Rejected Energy” represents waste. In the overall economy, we waste 66.7 of the 97.7 quads shown in the diagram. That’s a whopping 68%! Electricity generation roughly equals this level of inefficiency, coming in at 66%. However, looking specifically at transportation, we note that a full 79% of fuel fails to provide service. In other words, on average a mere 21% of the fuel burnt while driving delivers service. Yikes!
What You Can Do
This is exactly where awareness for connecting energy to the environment helps us limit negative impact! Recall, that we consumers directly control 1) our transportation and 2) the energy used in our homes, whether for heating or electricity.
Regarding transportation, the inefficiency numbers above speak loudly for us to limit driving as much as possible. When we must drive, we should batch nearby errands together. Further, for our commutes, we should consider car-pooling and using alternative modes such as public transit and bicycles.
Regarding our homes, we should take advantage of recent tech innovations. Specifically, we should look for methods of saving energy that include smart thermostats, LED lighting, and smart power strips. However, beyond these upgrades, we should implement new capabilities for remote, real-time monitoring of our electricity use.
On this topic, our company has prepared not only a comparison table for energy monitors, but also our very own platform, the Vue. We at Emporia Energy highly encourage you to purchase a monitor. Ideally, you will see our solution as providing the best combination of features and value to raise your energy awareness and do your part to protect the environment.