Addendum, 06 May 2009

2009/05/06

I’ve referenced statistics on national energy useage in at least one previous blog post, but given today’s earlier post, it would be useful to point out the information again. Our dependence on oil and, by extension, foreign sources of it is a concern that is sometimes trotted out by the President and his sycophants in relation to the both the environment and national security. To be fair, I agree with the latter, since we could avoid many of our current international entanglements if we did not import as much oil as we do; [1] but as I have mentioned before, cutting back on oil will have only a limited effect on our energy consumption. According to official statistics, petroleum products account for only 15% of our total energy production in 2007 (the latest year for which statistics are available), [2] and of these petroleum products, the vast majority are devoted to transportation. [3] Nearly all of the fossil fuel energy devoted to electricity production comes either from coal (34%) and natural gas (28%), and together, these two sources account for approximately 62% of all energy production in the nation. Herein lies the major issue with alternative energy sources; of the remainder, only nuclear, hydroelectric, and biomass account for more than 1% of energy sources (11.7%, 3.4%, and 5%, respectively [4]). Wind and solar, both of which have received quite a bit of press lately, each account for less than 1% of national energy production (0.44% and 0.11%, respectively); if either of these are to ultimately replace our consumption of coal and natural gas, we would need to make enormous strides in building the necessary infrastructure for either of these technologies. Clearly, neither technology is currently in any position to take up even a modest fraction of the amount of energy currently supplied by fossil fuels.

The reason I focus on coal and natural gas is that these are now the primary sources of electricity generation in the nation. [5] Electricity accounts for much of the energy that is consumed by factories and assembly lines, not to mention storage facilities and retail locations, as well. This being the case, and with just under half of the nation’s electricity supplied by coal, the challenge for Green™ energy sources is, again, enormous; I cannot stress this point enough. As mentioned in today’s earlier post, with so much of our economy so heavily dependent on cheap energy production, we cannot afford to make too many mistakes when selecting alternatives to coal and other fossil fuels. Simply put, we cannot just “flip the switch” on fossil fuels and start using other sources of energy; the infrastructure simply does not currently exist to permit us to do so, and to build such infrastructure requires a net expenditure of energy. It is imperative that we find ways to build the necessary alternative energy infrastructure to replace our fossil fuel economy, but since this would also require additional consumption of energy (and thereby, hastening the arrival of skyrocketing prices for the scarce remaining fossil fuels), we must also ensure that we do not squander our few remaining chances.

Notes:

[1]: Note, however, that the President is fond of misrepresenting the scope of our oil imports, as indicated here, from FactCheck.org, the website of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

[2]: Statistics available here, from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Total energy production was 71.713, while petroleum products accounted for only 10.802 (both figures in quadrillion BTUs); 10.802 / 71.713 = 0.15063; 0.15063 x 100 = 15.1%

[3]: Statistics available here, from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Total petroleum products for February 2009 amounted to 524 million barrels; of this total, gasoline alone accounted for 247 million barrels (or approximately 47%); distillate fuel oils (diesel & heating oil) is the next largest amount at just under 110 million barrels (or just under 21%); other products generally accounted for far smaller fractional amounts. [*]

[*]: Note that while some communities still use heating oil for, well, heat, this accounts for a minute amount of the total energy needs around the nation (approximately 7.6% of household heating needs); statistics available here, from the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

[4]: Note that evil nuclear power accounts for the largest non-fossil fuel percentage of the remaining alternative energy sources. Hydroelectric is itself a finite resource, not because the “fuel” will run out, but because it is extraordinarily location-dependent.

[5]: Statistics available here, from the Energy Information Administration.

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2 Responses to “Addendum, 06 May 2009”

  1. MI Says:

    According to official statistics, petroleum products account for only 15% of our total energy production in 2007

    Consumption, not production, is IMHO a more accurate indicator of our dependence upon various fuels; and oil accounts for ~40% of our energy consumption (*).

    Nearly all of the fossil fuel energy devoted to electricity production comes either from coal (34%) and natural gas (28%

    Total 2007 fossil fuel consumption by the electricity sector was 28.5 quads. Coal & NG accounted for 20.8 & 7.046 quads of that, respectively. I leave the calculation of percentages as an exercise for the reader (**).

    IMHO, conversion of the electricity sector isn’t terribly problematic; between nuclear & wind (and sooner or later solar), the technology exists, it’s just a matter of political/economic will to apply it.

    Oil consumption, IMHO, is a far bigger issue. Our conventional oil resources are far less than w/ NG or coal; and (as Iraq has demonstrated) the cost of the foreign entanglements arising from our dependence on foreign oil is non-trivial.

    I may not agree w/ Obama’s take on reducing said dependence, but I do agree that it needs to be done. Moreover, whereas the tech for doing that cost-effectively arguably _doesn’t_ exist (or at least it isn’t as well-developed as wind & nuclear are for electricity generation), there’s good reason to focus R&D effort on transportation means that would lower our oil consumption.

    (*) 2007 AER, Table 1.3, at http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/txt/ptb0103.html

    (**) 2007 AER, Table 2.1f, at http://www.eia.doe.gov/aer/txt/ptb0201f.html

    • seeker312 Says:

      Oops…looks like I picked the wrong table. Regarless, the overall point remains unchanged, namely, that we derive the vast majority of our energy needs from fossil fuels. I don’t deny that the technologies exist for nuclear and wind power implementation, but nuclear is far from a certain investment, even in these tougher times, and as previously stated, wind, while a proven technology, accounts for so little of our current consumption that it would take a massive investment to implement it on the scale we would need to supplant our fossil fuel consumption. The problem I have with the President and Congress’ proposals for Green energy sources sound mostly like alot of hot air about more research and development, and very light on detailed plans for implementation of proven technologies.

      Oil consumption, as it currently stands, is indeed a massive problem, but not especially related to residential energy consumption (as stated, very little residences use oil for heating purposes anymore), so I did not focus much on this. Of course, with proper implementation of alternative energy sources and efficient PEVs, our thirst for oil would disappear rather quickly. I don’t deny that the latter (PEVs, that is) do require additional R&D efforts, but from what I’ve heard thus far, the President et al. seem to have it backwards, i.e. more R&D for Green energy technologies and, well, I don’t even know what they want in terms of PEVs – or if they’re even paying any attention to this crucial technology. The fact that the President appears to have a massive phobia when it comes to providing solid details does not help in this regard, of course.


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