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The Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You

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The World's Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You

The World’s Safest Source of Energy Will Surprise You

When it comes to conversations on energy, it’s hard to leave your feelings at the door.

It’s arguable that energy is the single most important driver of human progress – it’s a multi-trillion dollar industry that powers our daily lives, technological advancements, and even the economic development of entire countries. At the same time, our choices around energy can have significant consequences. How we decide to generate energy can decimate the environment, fuel political conflicts, and even cause human deaths as unwelcome side effects.

The outcomes from our choices around energy are so vivid, that we’ve developed strong and polarized associations with the subject at hand.

The Empirical Perspective

Today’s visualization on the safest sources of energy comes to us from Cambridge House, the company hosting the International Mining Investment Conference 2018 on May 15-16 in Vancouver, BC, and it uses an empirical approach to compare different energy sources with one another.

Based on the data, this comparison provides a perspective that will be surprising to many viewers. Despite its perceived dangers, nuclear is actually the safest type of energy.

Energy SourceDeaths per 1,000 TWh% of Global Primary Energy Supply (2015)
Coal100,00028.1%
Oil36,00031.7%
Natural Gas4,00021.6%
Hydro1,4002.5%
Solar440*<1%
Wind150<1%
Nuclear904.9%

That’s right – even when including seemingly catastrophic incidents such as Chernobyl and Fukushima in the calculations, the math says that the amount of energy generated by nuclear is so vast that it more than outweighs these incidents over the long-term.

The reality is that nuclear energy is much more comparable to renewables like solar or wind, in terms of safety. More importantly, it’s on the polar opposite of the spectrum from coal, which manages to kill 4,400 people daily in China alone.

The Nuclear Option

Interestingly, multiple studies have come to this exact same conclusion, including the ones used in an analysis by economist Max Roser’s project called Our World in Data.

Even though the conclusion on nuclear is pretty cut and dry, it’s still hard to absorb. After all, the relative safety of nuclear ends up being extremely counter-intuitive to our human brains, which are seemingly wired to put more weight on big, memorable events (i.e. Chernobyl) rather than slow, consistent deaths that occur over time with other energy sources.

Today, nuclear provides about 11% of the world’s electricity from about 450 power reactors, generating about 2,500 TWh of electricity each year.

And while there are still questions that remain – specifically revolving around how to store certain types of nuclear waste – the above data explains why the majority of scientists classify nuclear as a sustainable and safe energy source, along with other renewables.

This post originally appeared on Visual Capitalist’s new VC Metals channel, home to data-driven visual content on metals, commodities, and energy.

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Energy

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.

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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:

YearU.S. Energy Consumption% Fossil Fuels in Mix
2018101.2 quads80.2%
201797.7 quads80.0%
201697.3 quads80.8%
201597.2 quads81.6%
201498.3 quads81.6%

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:

Source20142015201620172018Change ('14-'18)
Solar0.4270.4260.5870.7750.949+122%
Wind1.731.782.112.352.53+46%

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.

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Energy

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.

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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:

Oil production by country

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.

Natural gas production by country

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 Production

Coal use may be on the decline, but China still produces a whopping 45% of the world’s coal.

Coal production by country

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:

Total fossil fuel production by country

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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