The windmill, which converts wind into rotational energy to mill grain or pump water, has been around since antiquity. It’s even been claimed that Ancient Babylonians planned to harness wind as early as almost 4,000 years ago, as part of a scheme for one of Hammurabi’s ambitious irrigation projects.
By the end of the 19th century, wind energy took on a whole new meaning as engineers in Scotland, Denmark, and the United States invented the first wind turbines that generated electricity. Many technological improvements have been made since, and now modern wind farms dot the landscapes of countries around the world.
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Today, wind power is an important element of the green energy mix, and its estimated that 432 GW of wind farms are installed globally. In the United States, nearly 5% of all power is now generated by wind.
How Wind Turbines Work
How do these massive propellers get into motion? Once they are turning, what do they do?
As shown in the animation, it’s all about the lift and drag forces created by the shape of the blades. Lift acts perpendicular to the direction of wind flow and drag acts parallel to the direction of wind flow.
The blades are designed so that when wind passes, a low-pressure pocket of air is created by faster moving wind on the curved side of the blade. This sucks the blade in the downwind direction, creating lift. The blades are then connected to a series of shafts that spin an electromagnetic induction generator, and this creates electricity.
There are some other bells and whistles that help to maximize efficiency in a modern wind turbine as well.
The anemometer measures wind speed, while the controller starts and stops the turbines to operate only at desirable wind speeds (between 8 and 55 kmph). The wind vane measures the wind’s direction and communicates this information to the yaw drive, which helps make adjustments to the turbine’s orientation. Lastly, there is also a braking system installed which can be used for emergency stops when wind speeds get too extreme.
Original graphic by: SaveOnEnergy
Visualizing U.S. Energy Use in One Giant Chart
This interesting diagram breaks down all U.S. energy use by both source and industry, and everything that happens in between.
Visualizing U.S. Energy Use in One Giant Chart
If you feel like you’ve seen this diagram before, you probably have.
Every year, it’s assembled by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a research center founded by UC Berkeley and funded primarily by the U.S. Department of Energy.
The ambitious aim is to chart all U.S. energy use in one Sankey diagram, including the original energy source (i.e. nuclear, oil, wind, etc.) as well as the ultimate end use (i.e. residential, commercial, etc.) for the energy that was generated.
U.S. Energy Use in 2018
According to the research center’s most recent published version of the diagram, U.S. energy use totaled 101.2 quads in 2018.
In case you are wondering, a single quad is equal to 1 quadrillion BTUs, with each quad being roughly equivalent to 185 million barrels of crude oil, 8 billion gallons of gasoline, or 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Here is how the recent figure compares to previous years:
|Year||U.S. Energy Consumption||% Fossil Fuels in Mix|
As you can see in the table, U.S. energy use has been generally increasing, eventually topping 100 quads per year by 2018. During this time, the total percentage of fossil fuels in the mix has dropped, but only from 81.6% to 80.2%.
Taking a closer look at the data, we can see that the largest percentage increases in the mix have come from solar and wind sources:
Energy use measured in quads (1 quadrillion BTUs)
Solar use has increased 122% since 2014, while wind jumped 46% over the same timeframe. Not surprisingly, energy derived from coal has fallen by 26%.
Dealing With the Rejects
One interesting thing about the diagram is that it also shows rejected energy, which represents the energy that actually gets wasted due to various inefficiencies. In fact, 68% of all energy generated is not harnessed for any productive use.
This makes sense, since gasoline engines are usually only about 20-40% efficient, and even electric engines are 85-90% efficient. Put another way, a certain percentage of energy is always released as heat, sound, light, or other forms that are hard for us to harness.
As electric cars rise in popularity and as modern gas-powered engines also get more efficient, there is hope that the amount of this rejected energy will decrease over time.
Mapped: Fossil Fuel Production by Country
These four animated cartograms show the nations leading the world in fossil fuel production, in terms of oil, gas, coal, and total hydrocarbons.
Fossil fuels exist as a double-edged sword for most countries.
On one hand, they still make up a dominant piece of the current energy mix, and oil is still seen as a crucial resource for achieving geopolitical significance. It’s also no secret that fossil fuels are a driver for many economies around the world.
But with governments and corporations counting carbon emissions and mounting concerns about climate change, reliance on these same fuels will not last forever. As attitudes and policies evolve, they will continue to see a reduced role going forward.
Visualizing Fossil Fuels by Country
So, which countries are pumping out the most hydrocarbons?
Today’s cartograms come from 911Metallurgist, and the animated maps resize each country based on their share of global fossil fuel production.
Below, you’ll see four cartograms that cover oil, gas, coal, and total fossil fuel production.
Crude Oil Production
The United States leads this category, producing about 18% of the world’s total oil:
Although the U.S. is the number one producer globally, it should be noted that the country doesn’t have the same quantity of oil reserves as other leading nations.
Weirdly, Venezuela has the exact opposite problem. The country has the most oil reserves in the world, but currently only sits as its 12th biggest producer.
Natural Gas Production
In terms of gas, the U.S. leads again with a 20% share of global production. Russia is also a gas powerhouse, with a 17.3% share.
After the U.S. and Russia, it’s a fairly steep dropoff in terms of natural gas production. Countries like Iran, Canada, Qatar, and China are the next most significant players, but they each only produce 4-6% of the global total.
Coal use may be on the decline, but China still produces a whopping 45% of the world’s coal.
China’s current relationship with coal is an interesting one.
Every year, coal has become less important in China’s energy mix – in 2011 it represented 70% of energy consumption, and by 2018 it had fell to 59%.
Despite this meaningful progress, China’s economy has grown so fast, that coal use has essentially held steady in absolute terms. Meanwhile, the country’s production of coal has actually grown slightly over the same timeframe.
Total Fossil Fuel Production
Finally, here is the sum of all three above categories, converted to metric tonnes:
The United States produces 20% of all global fossil fuels, with Russia and Iran rounding out the top three. After that comes Canada, which produces just under 5% of all fossil fuels globally.
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