Friday, January 2, 2009

Starting to Think About Energy


Just some initial thoughts about the US energy situation. We use energy as a nation primarily in three ways: we use electricity, we use energy for travel (primarily gas and diesel at present) and we use energy for space heating (some of this is electric, some gas, some heating oil, some wood burning, some coal, and no doubt a little bit of geothermal and solar).
Any coherent energy policy has to think about all these uses, rather than just one in isolation. As an example, suppose we decide that our policy is going to be to encourage electric cars (plug in hybrids or some such). We had best plan on increasing our electrical generating capacity significantly or we will not be able to charge those hybrids when needed.
Wikipedia has an interesting overview page on energy usage in the US. It includes a number of charts and so forth which provide some useful background. The above chart shows energy usage (not just electricity) in the US in 2004. About 45% of the residential usage is for space heating and water heating, while about 19% of commercial usage is for those purposes. Most of transportation is oil based, whether aviation (12% of transpo), diesel (21%) or gasoline (61%). The net result of this is that at least 60% of the total energy usage in the US (probably more than this, since some of that space and water heating will be electrical) has to be generated by electricity.
All of this will have to play into the mix as we try (if indeed we do try - as far as I can tell we haven't had an energy policy ever in the US, so you could argue that we don't need one now!) to work out an energy policy for the US. More to follow!

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