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Americans Using Less Energy Overall and Using More Renewable Energy Resources

24 August 2010

The United States used significantly less coal and petroleum in 2009 than in 2008, and significantly more wind power. There also was a decline in natural gas use and increases in solar, hydro and geothermal power according to the most recent energy flow charts released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Energy use tends to follow the level of economic activity, and that level declined last year. At the same time, higher efficiency appliances and vehicles reduced energy use even further. As a result, people and businesses are using less energy in general.

—A.J. Simon, LLNL

The left side of the chart shows the different sources of energy and the amounts produced. Following the flow of energy from left to right, the pink boxes show where the energy is consumed (electrical generation, residential, commercial, industrial and transportation) while the shades of gray show the amount of energy lost or rejected—often through heat loss.
The information is based on DOE/EIA-0384(2009), August 2010. Distributed electricity represents only retail electricity sales and does not include self-generation. EIA reports flows for non-thermal resources (i.e., hydro, wind and solar) in BTU-equivalent values by assuming a typical fossil fuel plant heat rate."End use efficiency is estimated as 80% for the residential, commercial and industrial sectors, and as 25% for the transportation sector. Click here for high resolution version and attached annotations (PDF).

The estimated US energy use in 2009 equaled 94.6 quadrillion BTUs (quads), down from 99.2 quadrillion BTUs in 2008. The average American household uses about 95 million BTU per year.

Energy use in the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation arenas all declined by .22, .09, 2.16 and .88 quads, respectively.

Wind power increased dramatically in 2009 to .70 quads of primary energy compared to .51 in 2008. Most of that energy is tied directly to electricity generation and thus helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production.

The increase in renewables is a really good story, especially in the wind arena. It’s a result of very good incentives and technological advancements. In 2009, the technology got better and the incentives remained relatively stable. The investments put in place for wind in previous years came online in 2009. Even better, there are more projects in the pipeline for 2010 and beyond.

—A.J. Simon

The significant decrease in coal used to produce electricity can be attributed to three factors: overall lower electricity demand; a fuel shift to natural gas; and an offset created by more wind power production, according to Simon.

Nuclear energy use remained relatively flat in 2009. No new plants were added or taken offline in this interval, and the existing fleet operated slightly less than in 2008.

Of the 94.6 quads consumed, only 39.97 ended up as energy services. Energy services, such as lighting and machinery output, are harder to estimate than fuel consumption, Simon said.

The ratio of energy services to the total amount of energy used is a measure of the country’s energy efficiency.

Carbon emissions data are expected to be released later this year, but Simon suspects they will tell a similar story.

August 24, 2010 in Brief | Permalink | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)


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No surprise here. Year 2008/2009 corresponds to the first full dip into the current W economy. Energy consumption will pick-up again by year 2011, i.e,. during the first full peak in the current W economic swing. However we could see another dip followed by another peak. What will change will be the distribution amongst various energy sources. NG and Wind power will have larger shares.

There's more than that HarveyD. Coal use was down 20%, but electricity use was down only 2.5% over 2008 numbers. The difference is that a smidge more hydro, a smidge more wind, and a smidge more natural gas were used to make (2.5% less) electricity -- and coal was squeezed.

2010 isn't shaping up to have a great economy either -- we might see about the same amount of energy consumption, with another drop of 5% - 10% coal use based on 2008 numbers. If the state RPS requirements keep hold -- or even better if (gasp!) the Dems can get a few GOPers to go along with a national RPS, we might see coal use continue to shrink.

stomy: Whenever total energy use goes down, the main reason is economic downturn. Agree with you that Wind, Hydro (imported?) and NG will progressively replace Coal as heating oil and electricity replaced it 60+ years ago.

Early forecast seems to indicate that total energy consumption will be up in 2010 while gasoline may be slightly down. The following year (2011) could see a 2% to 5% increase.

Its very likely we will get hit by a double dip so id expect anouther solid drop in energy use.

Also alot of people have moved out of places that were costly to cool/heat and no one moved in... nevada is a good example of that.

Also there still is a ton of comercial property and industrial property that went dark and is going to stay that way. Even one skysraper going dark saves a mnetric buttload over a year and quite a few have gone dark recently.

Trouble is it's all unbelievable and therefor a virtual exercise in futility. But hey, it's nice coal use is falling.

With China's reliance on 70% energy from coal - the current 11 day traffic jam is only the beginning. When the rest of the world stops buying low wage, low quality products - the trucks will stop rolling altogether.

Another reason to rebuild manufacturing across the globe. One source/centralized production of anything has proven to be a repeated failure. Diversity, diversity, diversity!

Reel$$ I take it you don't shop at Walmart ever? Americans have gotten used to cheap products, the motto here in Big D is if its in a box or caned Walmart, for fresh foods always the farmers market or butcher shop, no way would i ever eat Walmart produce or meats yuck. spending more for quality food is one thing but spending more for the identical canned item is just silly. Chinese crap is just that crap most of the time, my electronics are Japanese, my date car is German, and my Truck and Boat are American big engine V-8's the both of them what we Americans are good at displacement and power.

Actualy walmart meat around here is very good quality but then thats because it comes from around here...

Am I reading this chart correctly? Utilities waste 88% of the energy they produce? That seems high, but then why should a local monopoly care about waste? They make money either way. One more reason to deregulate utilities or simply unplug by installing an 88% efficient residential fuel cell.

I am assuming "Rejected Energy" is the politically correct way to say wasted energy.

Rejected energy doesn't tell the whole story on waste. It probably counts waste heat, transmission losses, wasted base power that couldn't find a buyer off hours, and such, but it probably doesn't count all the gigawatts used by incandecent bulbs instead of CFL or LED, and it probably doesn't count all the miles driven in 8 or 6-cylinder models when the same car is available in 6 or 4-cylinder versions.

Clearly, millions of BEV and PHEV could charge at off-peak hours without requiring more fossil fuels to be burned. Better building insulation and more efficient lighting, etc. could significantly reduce usage of natural gas and coal.

I like this diagram, I first discovered it years ago. It shows the whole picture. Most people don't give a first thought, let alone a second one about how much we use and where it goes.


yep I shopped at Walmart and learned hard way that stuff like shoes clothes, electronics, etc. fall apart in 6 months. I asked a retailer where can I buy good quality shoes NOT made in China. He said I couldn't.

I want to pay more for better quality just so I don't have to replace my freakin shoes every six months!! THAT has to change. We need shoes made on all continents to compete with the low quality makers - hence my "diversity" redundancy.

Quality and aesthetics have real, monetary value. This world dismisses both at it own peril. The loss of craft, art, aesthetics and quality in favor of "efficiency" or low cost - makes for a decrepit community not worth sustaining. IMO

I'v always said "there's a high cost for being cheap." And others agree;

What's new for me about this graph are two things:
1. They show conversion losses in transportation. Up to now that was only shown for electricity generation. It helps to show why we won't need as much electricity as some believe when they mistakenly base their calculations on primary energy use. The big fat 20.23 quads of rejected energy will shrink to almost zero when we switch to electric cars.

2. Wind energy is said to have yielded 0.7 quads. That is ~200 TWh. Currently the US has 35 GW of wind. With 2000 full load hours per year, that would generate at most 70 TWh. What they have done is express the electricity generated in displaced primary (fossil) energy. I assume they have done the same for nuclear and hydro.

Anne, electricity generation rejects almost the same percentage of primary energy as transportation. EVs won't shrink overall rejected energy by much, just move it to a different part of the chart.

You're right about wind's 0.70 quad. They seem to have scaled up actual wind kWhs to be on equal footing with 33%-ish efficient fuels such as coal, natgas, etc. for the "primary energy" column. Same with hydro and (I presume) solar. For Nuclear I think they use actual powerplant thermal energy for the primary energy column.


wrt to the rejected energy for transportation: you're right. I had the misguided calculations in mind that estimate the amount of electricity needed for electric transportation by simply looking at the thermal energy contained in the fuels that we now consume.

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