Latest look at the Lawrence Livermore graph that tells you everything you need to know about America's energy use

It's an annual ritual now, when the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory issues its Sankey diagram of estimated energy use, the one graph that tells so much about where our energy comes from, how it is used, and how it is wasted.

There are glimmers of good news; Solar and wind power are up significantly, but together are still barely rounding errors compared to coal. Total energy use is up by 2.3 quads (quadrillion BTUs). The amount of non-petroleum based energy powering transportation is up by a hair. Otherwise it is the same dismal picture with the same lessons:

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/ Department of Energy/Public Domain

1. Our energy efficiency stinks.

Particularly in the transportation sector, where 79% of the energy put into it is wasted. When Mike first showed this graph six years ago, he titled his post Efficiency is Crucial to a Green Future and he is right, gains can be made there. But there are limits to what can be squeezed out of efficiency. The real problem is structural.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/Public Domain

2. Transportation remains our single biggest problem.

25 quads of energy to push cars around. The 35 quads of petroleum based energy is the single largest energy source. All kinds of sources add up to the 38 quads of energy generating electricity, but almost all that petroleum goes into cars. While it is true that consumption by buildings is up more than consumption by cars, at 19.99 quads, it is still a whole lot less than the energy used for transportation. As noted last year,

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Department of Energy/Public Domain

The biggest problem with our houses and buildings is their location, and the design of our communities that force people to burn 26.7 quads of energy just getting around to them. in 1970, transportation used just about the same as buildings; now it is 50% more. That's sprawl talking.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/ Department of Energy/ click for larger version/Public Domain

A look at the carbon emissions Sankey diagram shows that burning petroleum is again the single biggest source of carbon emissions. More total CO2 is created by making electricity, 74% of which goes into residential and commercial buildings, primarily for cooling.

Every year, it is the same story told by these graphs, staring us in the face:

  • 74% of electrical emissions and other building CO2 emissions totals 2061 million metric tons of CO2, or 38% of total carbon emissions. Most of that electricity use is for air conditioning.
  • Transportation generates 1830 million metric tons, or 33% of total carbon emissions directly from fuel use, and not including the proportion of industrial output that is devoted to making and supporting transportation.

So basically it's the car, driving to air conditioned sprawl, that's responsible for as much as 71% of our carbon emissions. Changing light bulbs doesn't fix that. Really, we have to do everything we can to get people out of their cars, and into walkable communities in temperate climates. Everything else is just gnawing around the edges.

Tags: Energy Efficiency