All U.S. Energy Consumption in a Giant Diagram
Today’s graphic is special type of flow chart, called a Sankey diagram.
This particular one shows the total estimated energy consumption in the United States in 2015, and how energy flowed from source to the final destination. The graphic comes to us from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Department of Energy.
The beauty of a Sankey is in its simplicity and and effectiveness. No information is left out, and we can really see the full energy picture from a 10,000 foot view.
The U.S. is estimated to have consumed 97.5 quads of energy in 2015.
What’s a quad? It’s equal to a quadrillion BTUs, which is roughly comparable to any of these:
- 8,007,000,000 gallons (US) of gasoline
- 293,071,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh)
- 36,000,000 tonnes of coal
- 970,434,000,000 cubic feet of natural gas
- 25,200,000 tonnes of oil
- 252,000,000 tonnes of TNT
- 13.3 tonnes of uranium-235
It’s a lot of energy – and if you look at the diagram, you’ll see most of it is actually wasted.
It’s estimated that 59.1 quads (60.6% of all energy) is “rejected energy”, a fancy term for energy that is produced but not used in an effective way. For example, when gasoline is burned in a car, most of the energy comes off as heat instead of doing productive work (ie. turning the crank shaft). The average internal combustion engine is only 20% efficient, and people get excited even when they approach 40% efficiency.
While gas engines are horribly inefficient, so are other energy sources. If you look at electricity production on the diagram, you’ll see that 67% of all energy going to generate electricity is wasted.
It’s the laws of physics, but there are still many areas for improvement to increase this efficiency.
A Long Way to Go for Green Energy
As we explained in Part 2 of our Battery Series, there are still some big obstacles to overcome for green energy, batteries, and energy storage.
By looking at all energy use (including non-electrical energy used in automobiles, industrial, etc.), this diagram helps put things in even more perspective. To make a big impact, green energy not only has to make inroads in electrical generation, but it also has to supplant the 25.4 quads of energy being used in the automotive sector. This is why projects like the massive Tesla Gigafactory 1 are such a big deal. If Elon Musk is successful in his mission, the whole diagram and our energy mix would change dramatically.
For now, however, green is still a blip on the radar. Looking at total energy consumption in 2015, solar only accounted for 0.53 quads of energy. Meanwhile, wind accounted for 1.82 quads.
Ranked: Countries with the Most Sustainable Energy Policies
Which countries are able to balance prosperity and sustainability in their energy mixes? See the countries with the most sustainable energy policies.
Ranked: Countries With Most Sustainable Energy Policies
The sourcing and distribution of energy is one of the most pressing issues of our time.
Just under one billion people still lack basic access to electricity, and many more connect to the grid through improvised wiring or live through frequent blackouts. On the flip side of the socioeconomic spectrum, a growing chorus of voices is pressuring governments and corporations to power the global economy in a more sustainable way.
Today’s visualization – using data from the World Energy Council (WEC) – ranks countries based on their mix of policies for tackling issues like energy security and environmental sustainability.
The Energy Trilemma Index
According to WEC, there are three primary policy areas that form the “trilemma”:
1. Energy Security
A nation’s capacity to meet current and future energy demand reliably, and bounce back swiftly from system shocks with minimal disruption to supply. This dimension covers the effectiveness of management of domestic and external energy sources, as well as the reliability and resilience of energy infrastructure.
2. Energy Equity
A country’s ability to provide universal access to reliable, affordable, and abundant energy for domestic and commercial use. This dimension captures basic access to electricity and clean cooking fuels and technologies, access to prosperity-enabling levels of energy consumption, and affordability of electricity, gas, and fuel.
3. Environmental Sustainability
The transition of a country’s energy system towards mitigating and avoiding environmental harm and climate change impacts. This dimension focuses on productivity and efficiency of generation, transmission and distribution, decarbonization, and air quality.
Using the dimensions above, a score out of 100 is generated. Here’s a complete ranking that shows which countries have the most sustainable energy policies:
|Rank||Country||Trilemma Score||Letter Grade*|
|4||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||81.5||AAA|
|10||🇳🇿 New Zealand||79.4||AAA|
|15||🇺🇸 United States||77.5||AAB|
|16||🇨🇿 Czech Republic||77.4||AAB|
|34||🇭🇰 Hong Kong (China)||72.5||DAB|
|37||🇰🇷 South Korea||71.7||BAC|
|38||🇨🇷 Costa Rica||71.6||CBA|
|62||🇸🇻 El Salvador||66.0||BCA|
|71||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||63.7||CBC|
|76||🇹🇹 Trinidad and Tobago||63.3||CAD|
|78||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||62.8||CAD|
|79||🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herz.||62.1||BBC|
|85||🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||60.1||BCB|
|92||🇿🇦 South Africa||58.9||DBD|
|97||🇩🇴 Dominican Republic||57.6||DBB|
|111||🇨🇮 Côte d’Ivoire||49.3||BDC|
*The letter grade represents national performance in three dimensions. The first letter represents Security, the second letter represents Equity, the third letter represents the Environmental Sustainability. The top grade is AAA, the lowest is DDD.
Highs, Lows, and Outliers
Every country has unique circumstances — from strategic energy reserves to green energy ambitions — that shape their domestic energy policies. Let’s take a closer look at some of the more interesting situations around the world.
Global Energy Outlook
Achieving the balance of prosperity and sustainability is a goal of nearly every country, but it takes stability and the right mix of policies to get the job done.
The fact that many trilemma scores are improving is an indicator that the world’s patchwork of energy policies are slowly moving in the right direction.
Ranked: The World’s Largest Energy Sources
As global population grows, our energy demand grows as well. Here are the largest energy sources in the world and how much electricity they generate.
The World’s Largest and Most Notable Energy Sources
Every day, humans consume roughly 63,300,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity to power our homes, workplaces, and vehicles─about the same produced by over 5,700 Hoover Dams.
While present-day electricity generation is slanted heavily in favor of coal and gas on a global basis, renewable sources have started to gain ground.
Today’s graphic from Information is Beautiful lists the world’s largest energy sources and their energy outputs. These power plants are ranked using the daily megawatt-hour (MWh), the amount of energy a power source generates in a day.
Relying on Renewables
Located in the United Kingdom, Drax Power Station is the world’s largest biomass plant, powered chiefly by burning wood. Originally a coal-fired plant, Drax is expected to fully phase out coal by the year 2025.
Meanwhile, Tengger Desert Solar Park in China was the biggest solar operation until 2018, but it has since been displaced by the Shakti Sthala plant in India. The latter uses only solar panels─no mirrors─to generate energy from the sun.
Overall, solar photovoltaics have experienced the highest growth of all energy source segments, showing 31% annual growth─nearly triple the rate of wind power according to the International Energy Association (IEA).
Currently, 27% of the world’s power comes from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and other similar resources.
However, according to back-of-the-envelope calculations, the potential for renewables is far beyond existing generation capacity. In fact, humans are just using 0.81% of solar’s potential generation capacity, and 0.57% of the potential from wind.
|Potential Energy Generation Capacity||480,000,000 MWh||401,850,000 MWh||86,400,000 MWh||48,767,123 MWh|
|Energy Generated (Current)||3,884,983 MWh||2,304,000 MWh||11,465,753 MWh||201,761 MWh|
|% of Potential Used||0.81%||0.57%||13.3%||0.41%|
Non-renewable Energy Sources
Nuclear power plants have perhaps the strongest stigma against them─largely due to international disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
However, nuclear power plants are still the most efficient energy sources, sitting at over 90% average capacity.
The largest nuclear plant (by MW) in the world, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, is currently shut down due to damage from a 2007 earthquake, and awaiting confirmation to restart operations. As a result, the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station in Canada now holds the title of the largest operating reactor in the world. The plant currently generates about 30% of Ontario’s power.
In 2018, coal is still being used to generate roughly 38% of the world’s total electricity, followed by natural gas with a 23% share.
The Future of Energy Potential
Fittingly, the graphic also shows daily energy outputs for Google and Bitcoin usage. This data helps remind us that our online activity also consumes energy─something that will be top of mind as technology continues to advance and humans need to use more energy through our internet-enabled devices.
Understanding humanity’s need for energy is a daunting endeavor, but it’s critical to ensuring our planet has a sustainable source of energy for generations to come.
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