This one’s for all the nerds who wonder where the US gets its energy—and what it’s used for. Behold:
Click the image to get a bigger, even more succulent version. (And thanks, Matt, for the heads up.)
Some interesting factoids follow:
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- Americans waste more energy than we use. Cars and coal-fired power plants, in particular, produce lots of heat that serves no useful purpose (unless you try this).
- Dang that’s a lot of oil. ‘Nuff said.
- Where are the renewables? Besides hydro, there’s a bit of biomass energy, mostly used in industrial pulp-and-paper mills. As of 2002, though, firewood was a bigger energy source than ethanol. And wind and solar didn’t even show up in the accounting—presumably because there’s so little that it wasn’t even worth counting.
Anyway, what I take away from all this is an awful lot of fossil fuel energy (and by extension, carbon emissions) is just plain wasted. Some of that waste is hard to recapture, of course—but if I were thinking about an R&D program for the energy sector, I think that—given the scale of the resource—reducing or reusing waste heat in its various guises would be close to the top of the list.
This is one of the most useful charts i’ve read in a LONG time. THANKS!Is the “waste” a product of system design (i.e., heat dissipation), or is it excess capacity from off-peak hours? If it’s the latter, then it certainly makes the case for plug-in hybrids, which could make easy use of that extra energy. PS: Wind and solar are listed as part of “Biomass/other”—see the asterisk.
While hunting for more info at the LLNL site I stumbled on this article that shows similar charts for possible long term impact of renewables on energy use.Here’s the source page for the chart you posted. There’s a PDF with background info, a similar chart showing carbon emissions on the right vs. energy source inputs on the left, and some slightly-more-easily-digested pie charts.Fascinating stuff.
Frank – isn’t it a beautiful thing? As far as I can tell, waste is mostly dissipated heat. There may be no way to capture that usefully for the electric power sector, especially given the location of power plants. That said, Denmark has some remarkably efficient combined heat and power systems that generate electricity and use the residual energy for municipal piped heat (sort of like Seattle Steam).Sorry I didn’t catch the asterisk.jeffy – thanks!
The trouble with combined heat & power with coal-fired power stations is that the hot water or steam can only be sent a relatively short distance before it becomes tepid water, and no-one wants to live near a coal-fired power station (or nuclear power plant, for that matter). I’m curious as to what technology the Danish systems use – most CHP systems that I know of are in Iceland (geothermal, so exempt from this concern) or the former Soviet Union, where piffling concerns like coal emissions in a crowded urban area came second to cheapness.
Not that this can get much bleaker, but the chart ends too soon in measuring the amount of lost energy. For example 6% of that energy then flows throw power adapters that lose 40 percent to 70 percent converting to DC.With the help of Energy Star, Climate Savers, Green Grid and other initiatives there are some effective measures coming on board to help improve this type of waste, which is necessary since our energy consumption in many of these sectors (i.e. large datacenters, Google, etc) continues to rise. Love the chart.
Amory Lovins at Rocky Mt Institute has been railing about this for years. Folks talking about closing the loop are trying to get behavioral change. In my view, a new optic is pretty, but it doesn’t effect change. IMHO, the single best way to effect change is to price things accordingly. Charge for waste. Charge the true price for, say, fuel, trash, water. The downside? Industry needs externalities to keep short-term profit.
eldan -Right you are. I have no real idea if there’s anything that can be done with the waste heat from existing coal fired power plants. Still, it seems interesting (to me at least) that so much of the energy in coal is simply dribbled away. So I dunno—is there any good use for tepid water near coal plants? (The Danes also use heat for greenhouses. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cogeneration. And their combined heat-power systems seem to burn just about anything—biomass, natural gas, and even coal.)
I do wonder if there’s _something_ the water could be used for. One thing that springs to mind is that a Stirling Engine can run on quite small temperature differentials, so it could be possible to capture some of that waste energy and generate more electricity from it. I don’t know how this pencils out in practice—perhaps it’s not economically viable—but intuitively it seems like it ought to make any given power plant more profitable, while at least getting more out of the amount of fuel that’s burned.I think Dan is right on the money though – fuel in general is so heavily and opaquely subsidised that its users just don’t have enough incentive to get the maximum energy output per unit of fuel consumed.
Dealing with heat waste is a big problem for technology companies trying to cool server rooms. At a past company I worked for, I suggested hooking up HVAC heat pumps to pump heat out of computer server rooms and into the Seattle Steam system…or hooking into neighboring apartment buildings’ hot water supply. Another suggestion I’ve heard is using the heat for beer brewing operations. The key is in colocating compatible facilities such that the waste from one can be used as energy for another.I also wonder how much loss there is in the resistance of the power transmission and conversion system (cables & transformers) vs. the inefficiencies (i.e., heat) of coal and other electric generation systems. The chart is somewhat vague in this, and I’m too lazy to dig through the related reports. 🙂
I think Dan is right on the money though – fuel in general is so heavily and opaquely subsidised that its users just don’t have enough incentive to get the maximum energy output per unit of fuel consumed. Yes, and I’m talking more about the fact that fuel and goods and most everything with polluting externalities is underpriced, so the market isn’t sending a message to the agent to conserve/not pollute. I now live in a small town on the Front Range of CO. Things are the same here as they were in Buckley, WA: folk leave their cars running. Here, I see people sitting in the vehicle with the engine running while the other person is in the store. I see this a lot. This morning, walking into work, there was a SUV running by the back entrance, no one in it, not even the precious pooch staying cool in the car when it’s 65 º outside. SUV. Running. Happens a lot, and it happens in Buckley, and in West BFE too. Why? Gasoline is too cheap. Will it be in 5 years? Some say no. Lawn watering. Here in semiarid CO, we get gutter flooders everywhere, watering their high water-use bluegrass. Regulations to conserve don’t cut it. Why? Water is too cheap. Trying to enact new landscaping regulations here to conserve water, we are running into lack of political will to limit turf; they are saying ‘let the market…yadayada’. This won’t work unless we can get the first rate tier above base rate to be 3X base rate—The Market<sup>TM</sup> sure will decide to conserve then (can we get this rate? We need political will…). Air conditioning. I’m living for a while in an apartment. I haven’t turned on the AC all summer, and we’ve been in the 90s a few days now. There are neighbors who have their AC running 24/7 (I’ve been told a million times not to exaggerate). Why do the ACs run all the time? Electricity is too cheap.It’s great that we have pretty graphs that show where the waste is, but what fraction of the population cares about this stuff and will take action? Low single digits. Until you hit people in the wallet, the majority will do what they do now: run their cars, water, AC, heater, etc.