U.S. Energy Use

Using oil is un-American…here’s a plot of our energy sources over the last two centuries, from the Department of Energy.

energy

Many things to see here. First, the dashed line shows domestic petroleum extraction, which peaked in the 1970s. (A quadrillion is 10^15, or a million billion.) Where should we drill, baby? It’s mostly gone into the air.

Second, the dark black line shows oil imports, the leading supplier being Canada. Reliance on oil and gas is reliance on other countries.

Third, and this one scares me, is the tan line showing coal use, our second most important energy source. We have about 300 years worth of coal in the U.S., and reliance on this energy means centuries more of carbon emissions. “Plug-in cars” mean “coal-fired cars”, and I think that’s a bad, bad idea.

Fourth, the bottom three lines (which don’t even rise above the tick mark at 2000) show three renewable energy sources. We have a long way to go to make those important energy contributions, and that’s why Pres. Obama’s on the right track: Invest in the future that we have to make happen.

This next graph shows how our per capita energy consumption increased over the last 1.5 centuries, along with our (U.S.) population.
percap
Over the last century, our population tripled, and so did our per capita energy use. The data come from the Department of Energy and the Census Bureau. We use a lot of energy.

Here’s a more detailed picture of  energy sources and consumption (in units of quadrillion BTUs) from the Annual Energy Review 2006 (the most recent can be downloaded www.eia.doe.gov/aer):

innout1

My opinion is that petroleum fuels will soon become very expensive, regardless of any cap-and-trade carbon emissions limit that comes along, but we have to be very concerned about a reliance on coal. Our climate can’t handle plug-in, coal-fired cars.

8 Responses to “U.S. Energy Use”

  1. First, fascinating site. Thanks for making these data (and explanations) public.

    You write that our climate can’t handle plug-in, coal-fired cars, and that seems accurate, given all we know about climate change and CO2 emissions from coal-burning power plants. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I assume you have no objection to plug-in vehicles with clean (non-GHG emitting) electrical sources. If that’s right, then public policy needs to focus more on shifting electrical generation from coal to clean energy sources. (Let me know if/when we part company, here.) In a market economy, doesn’t that mean internalizing the full costs of each power source? If the cost of burning coal (including climate change and health effects from other pollutants) were reflected in the price of electricity produced by the process, then solar, etc. would reach and surpass grid parity and plug-in vehicles would become the preferred alternative, yes?

    I know internalizing costs would be difficult, but it’s already being done incrementally. Perhaps more attention should go toward this end?

  2. Will says:

    I think we agree entirely. I just fear that with enough coal for 300 years, the same-old coal-fired power plants might power up today’s huge numbers of cars converted for plug-in designs.

  3. Excellent graphs. Bleak prospects for America decades after peak oil (which has evidently already occurred) as the population rises to 400 million and our civilization continues to crumble into dust.

    Our species has gambled with its own future and lost.

  4. Will says:

    I’m optimistic. People are pretty clever animals, and the tools are there for renewable energy sources. Sunlight represents massively greater amounts of energy than we use, and efficient solar panels can solve the problem.

  5. Douglas Hinds says:

    Good Info – but there’s more to the problem:

    The term “Global Atmospheric Instability” would foment a more correct view of the problem, along would the concepts of Homeostasis and the role microorganisms play in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere.

    While “Global Warming focuses on the Chemistry of the Atmosphere’s contents (i.e. Carbon), “Global Atmospheric Instability” emphasizes the origin and dynamic nature of the Atmosphere’s present composition, which was CREATED by the Earth’s BIOTA during Evolution (a continuing process).

    In other words, any source of contamination dumped in the Air, Water or Earth that affects the ability of the living microorganisms responsible for creating and maintaining the Earth’s Atmosphere as it is now (not as it was 3.5 billion years ago) in a stable dynamic state (like the state of homeostasis of our bodies), to do their job would obviously affect the Earths Atmospheric Stability.

    Read Lynn Margulis (U of Mass at Amherst) “Symbiotic Planet” or “Acquiring Genomes” (or James Lovelock on Gaia), whose observations are difficult to refute – (yet much more needs to be known, meaning more research focused on this issue should be funded).

  6. Will says:

    I prefer the phrase “anthropogenic climate change” because it encompasses many more phenomena at many different scales, not just the clearly demonstrated warming taking place at the global scale.

    I take exception to the tone in your comment: You’re veering close to the denialist’s lobbying barrage regarding human-influenced climate change, namely the assertion that the uncertainties are so great that we best do nothing to rein in carbon emissions. It is correct that uncertainties exist regarding the details of how humans affect the climate, and how changes in Earth’s climates will play out, but there are NO uncertainties on whether humans have changed our local and global climates. We have!

  7. Douglas Hinds says:

    Will posted:

    “I prefer the phrase “anthropogenic climate change” because it encompasses many more phenomena at many different scales, not just the clearly demonstrated warming taking place at the global scale.

    It indicates that the change was generated by Man, but it doesn’t define the mechanisms involved.

    “I take exception to the tone in your comment”

    Apparently, you misunderstood my intent.

    “You’re veering close to the denialist’s lobbying barrage regarding human-influenced climate change, namely the assertion that the uncertainties are so great that we best do nothing to rein in carbon emissions”.

    I didn’t mention carbon emissions. I referred to contamination (obviously anthropogenic) and the effect that it is having on the Earth’s BIOTA, which during Evolution (a continuing process), CREATED and continues to maintain the present composition of the Atmosphere. They are what make our climate stable.

    And I said: Any source of contamination dumped in the Air, Water or Earth that affects the ability of the living microorganisms responsible for creating and maintaining the Earth’s Atmosphere as it is now (not as it was 3.5 billion years ago when the first one celled organisms without nuclei began to take form), in a stable dynamic state (like the state of homeostasis of our bodies), to do their job would obviously affect the Earths Atmospheric Stability. I then cited my sources (Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock).

    “It is correct that uncertainties exist regarding the details of how humans affect the climate, and how changes in Earth’s climates will play out, but there are NO uncertainties on whether humans have changed our local and global climates. We have!”

    That it correct. And it goes much farther than the chemistry you mention. And there are few uncertainties (i.e the effects of acid rain are well known), but I believe that more attention should be given to the biological foundations of climate.

    Microorganisms created and maintain the atmosphere in it’s present dynamic yet stable state. As their presence, activity and diversity becomes affected by man-made contaminants, they become unable to maintain the atmosphere’s equilibrium and the climate wobbles as a result. It’s not just the chemistry.

  8. Will says:

    Those comments clarify your message a bit: Humans affect Earth (including atmosphere, biosphere, oceans, etc). Humans have caused many species extinctions, and put many others to the brink. “Anthropogenic climate change,” I hear you saying, is too narrow to encompass the many things humans have done. Agreed.

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