Will Blog for Experience: Patrick

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Energy Consumption


When you really get down to it, energy is all about numbers. So let's dig right in.
US energy consumption has steadily increased since World War II. Total consumption 2001 was 96,246 quadrillion BTU (DOE). The average annual increase is 1%, parallel to the average annual increase in population. This implies our increases in consumption are being fairly well balanced by increases in efficiency.

Per Capita

On a worldwide scale, what's more applicable is a per-capita measure of consumption. According to the World Resources Institute, in 2003 the US used 7794.8 kilograms of oil-equivalent per person. China is 1,138.3, the UK 3,913.1, and Venezuela is 2,057.0 (the UN also has similar results, if you're concerned about bias).

Per Dollar

The current administration likes to portray the issue in terms of energy consumption per dollar GDP, aka energy intensity. They like this method because it has been steadily decreasing since 1980.

I think this is simply an easy way to ignore an impending problem. The GDP is simply not the best way to measure success. I don't think I can illustrate this any better than William McDonough did in this book Cradle to Cradle:
"The GDP as a measure of progress emerged in an era when natural resources still seemed unlimited and "quality of life" meant high economic standards of living. But if prosperity is judged by increased economic activity, then car accidents, hospital visits, illnesses (such as cancer), and toxic spills are all signs of prosperity. Loss of resources, cultural depletion, negative social and environmental effects, reduction of quality of life-these ills can all be taking place, an entire region can be in decline, yet they are all negated by a simplistic economic figure that says economic life is good."


In the US, renewable energy sources contribute 813 Trillion BTU, which sounds like a large number, but is only a mere 3% of total consumption. The vast majority of that is from biomass.

Why should I care?

Simply put, that's a lot of energy. For any of you who are scientifically inclined, 100 quadrillion BTU is 1.05 × 1011 giga-joules. Increase that by 1%/year for 30 years, and you've got an even larger number. Since 97% of that comes from non-renewable sources, that means once they're gone, we're in a bit of pickle.

Sorry if that was a bit dry and engineering-speak sounding; it will get better. There are plenty of prospects for the future, and believe me, we won't run out of energy. In under 10 days, China will be hosting an energy meeting with the US and other major consumers; I look forward to hearing what comes out of this.

Up Next: Renewable Energy


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