Energy Issues Summary
Big Problems With Simple Solutions:
This page is intended to provide the reader with a brief summary of energy issues everyone needs to be aware of. The links shown throughout will take you to supporting references and resources.
Transportation & Power Generation - The two areas where we waste the most energy
Energy Supply & Demand - Why you should be concerned and what you can do about it
Household Environmental Impact - The Real Story
Politics Discourages Energy Conservation
Sustainable Energy - The Basics
A powerpoint presentation from The Energy Guy
DOWNLOAD Sustainable Energy Presentation
(472 kB; Adobe Acrobat file)
"After order and liberty, economy is one of the highest essentials
of a free government....Economy is always a guarantee of peace."
Calvin Coolidge, Republican U.S. President from1923–1929
Data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) indicates transportation consumes approximately 2/3 of the oil consumed in the United States - see chart below (navigate to source of chart here). Notice from the chart below several other disturbing facts -
1) Petroleum (bottom left, in green) is our most used resource,
followed by natural gas and coal.
2) About 75% of the energy used by the transportation sector is "lost energy" - only 25% is "useful".
3) The next most inefficient use in the US Energy is the electric power sector, where about 70% is "lost energy"
4) Facts #2 and #3 are two reasons why I generate my own power and have been driving electric since 1998!
Important Facts With Which
To Frame Your Perspective
United States % of World Population: 4.5%
United States % of World Oil Consumption: 28%
United States % of World Oil Resources: 3%
Drive a more efficient vehicle (see this link for comparative MPG ratings)! This site has a page of quality links to both transportation information as well as alternative transportation products. Personally, I've been very happy and saving lots of money driving an electric vehicle for the last few years, and I'm surprised more people aren't aware of their availability and practicality! And the majority of the electricity for my home and electric vehicle comes from renewable power generated in our own backyard.
Other things you can do include planning your trips better so you drive less, carpool whenever you can, and use public transportation (see this link for things you can do). To compare the energy and environmental impacts of different forms of transportation, go here.
Energy Supply & Demand
"Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found
for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings."
Helen Keller (1880-1968)
Are we going to run out of oil? No. It will get very expensive long before that! It's just a matter of time and circumstances, supply and demand. As demand continues to grow while reserves continue to decline, it's simply a matter of time before global demand surpasses global supply. And then it will get increasingly more expensive, even if demand stays constant but supply continues to drop. There are thousands of different graphs from mainstream sources depicting the future of oil supply, and the one below is one such example. The graphic below illustrates how supply problems will begin to limit production. The area under the curve is the total amount of (known) oil remaining on the planet (the dotted line represents production if additional discoveries, which can be reasonably anticipated, are included). Note the peak is estimated to occur around 2010!
Major oil companies such as British Petroleum (BP) and Royal Dutch Shell (two of the largest) are beginning to say its time society started preparing for the decline of oil. BP's CEO Jonathan Brown recently committed the company to energy conservation, the development of new energy technologies, and is cooperating with developing world countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Shell became the first large oil company to announce support of the Kyoto green-house gas reduction treaty, encouraging more efficient use of fossil fuels (1). An excellent source of further information is the Energy Bulletin.
Despite recognition of the need for compliance with the Kyoto agreements on climate change, by Shell as well as a majority of the scientific community and most every other country on the planet, it has been reduced to a political issue in the U.S. Most U.S. citizens are not only unaware of the pressing reasons to reduce fossil fuel consumption, but they are using up oil at an ever increasing rate (see growth in transportation energy use).
During the 1970's oil embargo, the U.S. imported about 1/3 of the oil it consumed. Today, just 30 years later, the fraction we import is approaching 2/3! Perhaps we should be thinking about the world's oil as our children's inheritance? Not just our (U.S.-based) children, but all the children in the world. Given most of the oil is owned by middle east countrys and most of the consumers of oil are in the west, with dramatic growth in China (far east), can't we see what we're setting our kids up for? The following two pie charts illustrate the current world oil situation in terms of who uses it, and who's got it (3) -
Many people anticipate natural gas, a cleaner burning fossil fuel than oil or gasoline, will be the sensible alternative when either oil begins to run out or we begin to take the environmental consequences more seriously. Like oil, natural gas may become very expensive soon as well given the conventional stuff is running out and everyone's in a big rush to get to the "unconventional gas" (which by recent reports is turning out to be much slower to extract and costlier than previously thought). Further, because it must be piped long distances, there are areas (such as California) where pipeline capacities will likely be insufficient in a few years - and no one wants a new pipeline in their backyard. Then there's the fact that such long distance pipelines are known to be difficult to patrol, and thus an ideal target for terrorist attack. While such systems may have served us well in the past, it's time to re-think the degree to which we will need to rely on them in the future.
Because most electricity is generated with fossil fuels, the price and availability is directly related to the price and availability of those fuels. In the U.S., a very small portion of our electricity comes from sustainable energy (see graph above under Transportation Section).
Use less energy! The following are links to information to help you learn more about reducing the energy you use for transportation, space heating and cooling of buildings as well as water heating; these are the big ones! To find specific products or services go here. To see the level of potential cost-effective savings possible for your home, go here.
More sustainable building designs use far less electricity for cooling than conventional buildings. Some require no (compressor-based) air conditioning at all. Lighting and refrigeration are two other big users of electricity.
To get the most cost effective solutions for reducing building and water heating energy use hire an energy professional. Otherwise there's a good chance you will end up spending excessive amounts of time and money sorting through the zillions of possibilities only to end up with less optimal solutions (for your pocketbook AND the environment). If you have the time and an inclination towards the technical, try surfing the net - it's loaded with energy solutions of all sorts.
"Men and nations behave wisely once they
all the other alternatives."
Abba Eban (1915 - 2002)
Forget about the other guy. Contrary to popular belief, our environmental problems aren't caused primarily by big corporations. It's the cumulative impact of each and every one of us. We all contribute to environmental harm to some extent, and need to keep in mind the big corporations are making the products and providing the services we, as consumers, demand. The place to focus our efforts is our own household.
A team of scientists recently published a study of consumer spending habits and calculated the corresponding environmental impacts. Keep in mind that environmental impact isn't a single category. (Reference)
One way to categorize impacts is shown in the chart below (greenhouse gases, air pollution, water pollution, and habitat alteration). In each category of environmental impact, the source is shown in color and in the key to the right. Note that just three sources - transportation (red), food (white), and household operations (blue) - add up to 60-80% of our household impact in every category! The household operations impacts (blue) are largely caused by electricity and gas useage.
Enhanced by human activities such as burning fossil fuels, climate change threatens both the environment and the economy. Because many people still believe it's a political issue or it's not based on strong science, this site has links to mainstream (defensible) sources of information. For the sake of ours and future generations, surf around these links and decide for yourself which "side" you want to align yourself with!
The latest research on climate change from the mainstream scientific community worldwide tells me that the climate change we're seeing today is happening much faster than it's ever happened before in the history of the planet. So we're not talking about "natural variation" here. The rapid change scientists are reporting is caused primarily by human changes to the planet. While there will be both positive and negative impacts, most of the impacts will fall in the "negative" category. Climate change will prove to be very expensive world problem in terms of economic costs, human health costs, and loss of human life.
Once you are convinced climate change is a serious problem and you'd like to do your part to reduce the impact, this site is here to help! The links accessible from the main page will help guide you to some of the very best sources of energy information available on the internet.
You can help by burning fewer petroleum products such as gasoline, fuel oil, propane and natural gas. The average American home wastes over 50% of the energy used considering cost effective choices currently available. The links available from the main page will take you to key sites offering general sources of information as well as the specific products and services you need to find these cost effective choices. For example, you'll learn how you can reduce the energy you use for transportation, sustainable buildings and solar water heating; these are big ones! To find specific products or services go here. If you are short on time and want to get right to the "mother lode" of top sustainable energy solutions, go straight to the Practical Tips page.
How Politics Discourages Energy Conservation
"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. ...corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins) Ref: "The Lincoln Encyclopedia", Archer H. Shaw (Macmillan, 1950, NY)
If you don't like paying unnecessary taxes you need to know about subsidies. Put simply, subsidies are a part of your energy bill currently hidden in the taxes you pay. Americans pay out about $300 billion dollars in energy subsidies in a year. In reality, we would save a lot more than $300 billion dollars if we eliminated these subsidies and paid at the pump instead. Think of the overhead savings from administrative cost reductions and the concept of a "level playing field" or, as conservatives say it, "leave the market alone".
We'd save a bunch when the government stopped playing subsidy "middleman" while taxing, massaging, and doling out those dollars. We'd save more still because some of those programs have passed their useful life and would simply be eliminated. Any "legitimate" costs remaining would then show up in higher fuel costs instead of a hidden tax. If people paid those (now lower) costs through their energy bill, we'd use fuel more energy efficiency. And at that point, conservation and renewable energy would have a more "level playing field" on which to compete, and we wouldn't need tax credits for them either (along with more wasted dollars for government "middlemen").
But what about important research and development (R&D) dollars you say? According to a survey by Republican pollster Vince Breglio (December, 1994), 75% of Americans agreed with the statement "while the overall budget for the Department of Energy should be reduced, resources should be redirected toward energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies and away from nuclear power and fossil fuel industries." Democrats and Republicans agreed the high priority should be renewables (45% & 35% respectively) and efficiency (22% & 19%) while nuclear (5% & 10%) and oil/coal (3% & 5%) are lower priorities. Current research and development dollars are actually the reverse of what Americans want, with "conventional fuels" getting the lions share; renewable & efficiency are left with the "table scraps."
Make ending energy subsidies a big issue with your elected representatives. Tell your friends to do the same. Consider joining a group like Taxpayers For Common Sense or one of the other organizations actively pursuing solutions to this issue. Tell your elected representatives they need to pay more attention to polls regarding how to spend our limited R&D funds, and legislate accordingly! To learn more about the problem and solutions for subsidies, see my links to subsidy and externality resources .
Externalities is a term used for describing costs (or benefits) that are external, or outside, the price you pay for something. Since such costs are indirect and difficult to determine, they have traditionally remained external to the energy pricing system, and are thus often referred to as externalities. Subsidies are but one example of cost externalities.
Other examples of externalities include human health problems caused by air pollution from the burning of coal and oil, damage to land from coal mining, environmental costs (global warming, acid rain, and water pollution) and national security costs, such as protecting foreign sources of oil.
According to the American Lung Association, "Lung disease claims more than 300,000 lives in America every year and is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Over the last decade, the death rate for lung disease has risen faster than that of any of the top leading causes of death. Tens of millions of Americans live in areas not meeting at least one federal air quality standard. The health costs of air pollution are estimated to be $50 billion each year."
This table of hidden costs provides an estimate of what American
pay for the energy they use every year, in addition to the cost of fuel
|Annual Cost Consumers Bear For The Energy They Use (2)||
Monthly Cost Per American Citizen ($/month) **
|Health Impacts From Pollution||
$ 82.0 Billion
|Government Subsidies To Utilities||
$ 55.2 Billion
|Military Defending Foreign Oil Supply *||
$ 54.0 Billion
|Disposing Of Radioactive Waste||
$ 31.2 Billion
|Lost Wages From Imported Oil||
|Crop Losses Caused By Pollution||
$ 7.5 Billion
|Corrosion Caused By Pollution||
$ 2.0 Billion
$ 262.5 Billion
Since the producers and the users of energy do not pay for these costs, society as a whole must pay for them. This sort of pricing system masks the true costs of fossil fuels, encourages over consumption, and results in damage to human health, the environment, and the economy. Because this system makes fossil fuel costs appear much lower than they actually are, it encourages energy waste and discourages investment in energy conservation and solar energy. Anyone who consumes oil is a part of the problem! The following are links to information to help you learn more about reducing the energy you use for transportation, space heating and cooling of buildings and water heating; these are big ones! To find specific products or services go here. See these links for further discussion of the problem and solutions associated with externalities.
1) "The Coming Oil Crisis - Really:" Los Angeles Times, Sunday June 7, 1998; Gregg Easterbrook. Gregg Easterbrook won the "Investigative Reporters and Editors Award" in 1980 for a series of articles showing that oil supplies were far more plentiful than was assumed at that time. It is important to note that he is well known in the energy industry for several books he has authored that paint a controversially rosy picture regarding the state of the environment and need for protections (see this link). That a person with this background and history wrote a recent article in a major U.S. newspaper is an indication that major media is (finally) beginning to report information people need in order to appreciate the need to act now!
2) "Oil barrels Filled With Subsidies - War Costs May Add Up To $60, Experts Say," Victor Dricks, The Phoenix Gazette. The author's information source was noted as being the U.S. Export Council For Renewable Energy.
3) Source of Date: US Dept of Energy, Energy
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