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US Now Leads in Energy Waste

US Energy WasteThe United States has taken the lead yet again, but this time, we may not be so proud.  We have surpassed every nation, including China, in the category of energy waste.  Yes, our country wastes the most energy in the world.  The U.S. has an energy efficiency of 42 percent, which means 58 percent of all the energy we produce is wasted!  How can this happen?!

No single person or enterprise is responsible for our latest “achievement.”  Every industry (manufacturing, transportation, residential, commercial, etc.) has aided in the wastefulness of this country, some more than others.  According to the U.S. Energy Administration, estimates show that the industrial sector consumes more energy every year than any other U.S. entity.  It has also established that energy use by the residential, transportation, and commercial sectors has drastically increased each year for the past 60 years, and it continues to rise.

Despite the growth of renewable energy sources, the bulk of our power is still produced using coal, petroleum, and natural gas, which tend to lead to inefficiency.  The New York Times published a study in 2008 that calculated the main causes of energy waste.  It estimated that 71 percent of energy generated for transportation is wasted, 66 percent is wasted in electricity, 20 percent is wasted in commercial and residential buildings, and 20 percent is wasted in industry or manufacturing.

A major culprit across all industries is heat waste, the byproduct of inefficient technology.  As a relative example, think of a traditional incandescent light bulb.  When left on for hours, we notice that the area around the bulb is extremely hot, which indicates that the bulb is not only producing light, but heat as well.  Since the sole purpose of a light bulb is to produce light, all of the energy that goes into producing the heat is a complete waste.  This is part of the reason why our government is slowly phasing out incandescent bulbs and encouraging the purchase of more efficient bulbs, like CFLs.  Although this is a small scaled example, the same concept can be applied to inefficient machinery in a manufacturing plant.

So how do we tame our inefficient tendencies?  We’ve all heard of ways to make our homes more energy efficient, but have we actually made any changes?  Adjust the thermostat at night or when no one is home, upgrade to more efficient lighting, wash your clothes in cold water when you can, make sure your air filters are clean, and for goodness sake, turn off your lights when no one is using them.

When it comes to transportation, we all know public is the way to go in terms of energy efficiency.  But when public transportation is not an option, carpool with your neighbors, ride your bike or walk, and combine shopping trips to limit drive time.

Businesses and industrial facilities have the opportunity to make a big difference, since they are the ones who consume (and waste!) most of our country’s energy.  Investing in lighting upgrades and adjusting thermostat temperatures are two methods that still apply.  Other small changes include limiting the time air conditioners run, installing a smart meter to monitor energy use, and shutting off computers, printers and other energy vampires at the end of every day. On a larger scale, businesses are encouraged to enroll in a demand response program to help limit wasted energy and assist the electric grid in times of excess demand.

The fact that the U.S. is the least energy efficient country in the world may be unbelievable, but it must not be ignored.  Each one of us is able to make at least one change in our daily lives.  Whether it be carpooling, switching to better light bulbs, or looking for additional ways to reduce heat waste, each change will add up to make a huge difference.  If your business is interested in gaining information on ways to become more efficient, look into working with an energy consultant.  They will be able to customize a plan for your facility.  Energy waste has been present in the U.S. for quite some time, so let’s be polite and let another country take the lead in this category.

Content Discussion

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 2, 2013

Sarah, what is your source for this information?

Tami Kennedy's picture
Tami Kennedy on March 2, 2013

As Bob mentions, do you have references? This site paints a different picture... http://www.aceee.org/portal/national-policy/international-scorecard

John Miller's picture
John Miller on March 2, 2013

Sarah, Federal DOE/EIA MER Table 2.1 Energy Consumption by Sector data does not support most of your claims.  The following are 2008-2012 Sector’s energy consumption statistics: Residential – down 8%, Commercial – down 5%, Industrial – down 3%, Transportation – down 4% and Electric Power – down 4%.  The actual energy efficiency statistics are significantly higher since the population has increased over the past five years and the economy has expanded.  The efficiency of the Electric Power sector is up quite significantly (subject of a post I’m currently writing) due largely to replacing older inefficient coal power plants with state-of-art combined cycle natural gas power plants.

Be careful when reading articles that claim U.S. energy efficiency is declining, especially when the basis is unclear or highly questionable.  Example: the reason why electric power generation has waste heat is due to the bottom-combined cycles where the steam turbine exhaust is condensed by exchange with cooling water (the source of the steam plumes you see venting from cooling towers).  This greatly increases the power generation efficiency of the natural gas steam powered generators substantially above all other fossil fuels or bio-waste/mass technologies (on a KWH/Btu basis). 

As far as percentage of the total U.S. consumption by sector: Industrial – 32%, Transportation – 28%, Residential – 21%, and Commercial – 19%.  Yes, the Industrial sector uses the largest amount of energy, but does so much more efficiently than developing countries such as China.  Besides total Industrial output being somewhat greater, U.S. Industries are extremely clean compared to China.  These environmental controls come at a cost; increased energy consumption.  Despite these necessary environmental controls costs, the U.S. is well ahead of China on nearly all energy fronts.

Sarah Battaglia's picture
Sarah Battaglia on March 4, 2013

Forbes recently posted a similar article claiming the same thing- that the US wastes the most energy in the world.  Check it out!

http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2013/02/22/america-the-worldwide-leader-in-wasting-energy/

 

 

John Miller's picture
John Miller on March 4, 2013

Unfortunately the Forbes article contains mostly vague ideas and political rhetoric, with not many facts to back up their position.  Can U.S. power grids be made more efficient?  The answer is yes.  Can we make our appliances and vehicles more efficient? The answer is yes.  Are they the most inefficient in the world the answer is no.  Why does the U.S. use more energy per capita than all other countries in the world?  The answer is we have one of the highest average standards of living, largest countries per capita (more rural than urban) and most mobile societies in the world, on average.  If you discount the value of these factors, one could rationalize we are addicted to energy and need to change or reduce our current standards of living.

The issue of U.S. energy consumption vs. most the world is not largely due to efficiency disadvantages, it’s due to the fact that the populous uses more energy for commuting, accessing goods & services, leisure and play.  Yes, we and all other countries can and should continue to make ourselves and our economies more efficient.  The U.S. per capita and per GDP energy and carbon emissions have dropped by about 25% and 90% respectively since the mid 1970’s.  Name one developed country that has done much better or a developing country that even comes close to these levels of improvements.  These facts or factors are missing from the Forbes article that claims the U.S. is the most wasteful in the world.

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on March 5, 2013

You and your sources don't quite understand the second law of thermodynamics. It is physically impossible to convert all heat energy to work or electric power. All heat engines (like automobile engines or gas turbines or steam locomotives) convert some heat to work and reject the rest to the environment. That's why your car has a radiator. That rejected heat is not "wasted" but is a part of the process of converting heat energy into work. The rejected heat can be reduced, and work increased, by increasing the temperature difference between the heat source and the environment into which the rejected heat passes. That's why a diesel engine gets better mileage than a gasoline engine -- it burns hotter

The liquid fluoride thorium reactor produces electricity with less rejected heat than current power generation technologies, because it is hotter. Please read about a new book, THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal, described at http://www.thoriumenergycheaperthancoal.com