America’s Energy Challenge

The chart shown below summarizes America’s energy profile for 2014. I have synthesized it from data in the Monthly Energy Review, as produced by the Energy Information Administration of the Federal Government.

The Sources & Uses Chart converts the heat measurements in which the government summarizes energy usage into watt-hour measurements. It’s the sensible thing to do. Tomorrow’s energy framework won’t be based primarily on combustion and measured in British Thermal Units, it will be based primarily on electricity and measured in watt-hours.

Watt-hours would be cumbersome, though, for an entire economy, so I use Terawatt Hours per Day (TWH/Day) as the standardized unit of measurement.

There is one area where I omit an interesting but eventually unimportant measurement. I don’t quantify the waste heat produced in generating electricity; I reflect only the actual value of the electricity produced. So I show 4.38 TWH/Day of coal-generated electricity, but omit the waste heat. (The waste energy would be roughly double the useful energy number.)

The goal of this chart isn’t to look back at the past; it’s to help us look forward to the challenge of creating an energy future for America in which fossil fuels no longer have any role.

As you will see from studying the chart, in 2014 the US economy used about 57.2 Terawatt-Hours/Day of energy. Of that, roughly 52 terawatt-hours a day was provided by coal, natural gas, and petroleum. In other words, more than 90% of America’s energy needs were met in 2014 by fossil fuels; our hope is to drive that total from 90% to 0%.

We make a serious mistake when we focus only on Electricity. Net Electricity in 2014 amounted to just under 10.5 TWH/Day, in an economy using 57.2 TWH/Day of energy in all its forms. Electricity generation from fossil fuels needs to be eliminated, to be sure, but from an energy replacement perspective, it’s only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

Step back from this chart a minute and think about the larger story it tells. On the Sources side, we need enough clean energy generating capacity to deliver roughly 57 TWH/Day worth of power. On the Uses side, we need new technologies everywhere, in order to free ourselves of fossil fuels in all our Buildings, all our Industries, and all our Vehicles.

We face two sets of capital spending challenges, in other words, one on the generation side, and the other on the application technology side, one on the Sources side, and one on the Uses side. Our goal of achieving a safe climate future therefore requires us to emphasize five parallel themes:

  • Clean Energy Electricity.

  • Clean Energy Buildings.

  • Clean Energy Industry.

  • Clean Energy Vehicles.

  • CO2 Recapture and Sequestration.

We want all five of these themes addressed fully, promptly, and continuously, until full success has been achieved in each.

The opinions expressed in this blog entry are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Climate Stewards of Greater Annapolis.

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