U.S. Petroleum Consumption, by year: click on this link to view the full data set
As indicated by the data in the red box below, U.S. per capita energy consumption (measured in Million Btu’s) was 214 in 1949, peaked at 359 in the late 1970’s, remained relatively flat at around 340 from 1988 to 2008, then declined sharply with the fiscal collapse to the current level around 312. Thus, per capita energy consumption in the U.S. is up roughly 50% in the past 65-years. By comparison, the world per capita consumption in 2010 was 74 million Btu, less than a quarter of the U.S. consumption rate.
A less substantial increase in energy consumption is seen in data for petroleum, in the green box to the right. In 1973, we consumed 17.03 million barrels of oil per day. This peaked at 20.67 million barrels per day in 2007, but has decreased since and now averages around 19 million barrels per day. Notably, transportation is the biggest use of petroleum, and increasing. In 1973, 52% of petroleum was used for transportation; since 2008, we have averaged 70% of petroleum used for transportation.
What it all Means…
- The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) graph shows sources and uses for 95.1 quadrillion Btu’s of energy in the year 2012. Note the gray box and the black box on the right margin. This shows that we are only 39% efficient — meaning that we waste 61% of the energy we use.
- The two biggest areas of energy waste are petroleum for transportation, and grid losses during electricity distribution.
- If the goal is to reduce CO2 generation, then we need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels.
- The ‘least efficient’ use of energy, petroleum for transportation, is only 21% efficient (meaning 79% of the energy expended is wasted). So, cut back on miles driven and miles flown. A carbon tax could help achieve this goal.
- The second ‘least efficient’ use of energy is electricity distributed on the grid, with a 32% efficiency (meaning 68% is wasted). Local energy generation (which allows shorter distribution distances) would help. This translates to smaller powerplants and accelerated development of alternative energy.
- Coal and Natural Gas provide 66% of energy used to generate electricity. This means that any grid efficiency improvements we make will reduce our need to burn fossil fuels.
- Petroleum represents 44% of the ‘fossil fuels’ consumed in the U.S. energy diet. Coal is 22% of all fossil fuels; natural gas is 33% of all fossil fuels.
- If we in the U.S. could make changes to reduce our per capita energy consumption in half, we would still use more energy per person than people in nearly all of Asia, Africa, and South America, and more than half of the nations in Europe. If we could reduce our wasted energy, we could theoretically eliminate the use of all fossil fuels.
- Fossil fuels in transportation are the low-hanging fruit in energy conservation. Thus, aviation is one of the ripest targets for reducing CO2 generation.