An Engineer in Wonderland – A worthy wall chart

energy-use-tiny.jpgIn the same way that Harry Beck’s 1931 Tube map simplified navigating the London Underground, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has just released a rather interesting chart that summarises US energy consumption.

Figures are in ‘Quads’ – quadrillion (1015) BTUs – petaBTU if you like.

A quad is about 1kJ, or 300mWh. (1BTU = 1.055kJ = 0.000293kWh)

So in 2008, the US consumed 99.2 quads or 104exaJ.

I would quite like to see a similar chart for UK energy.

My only disappointment is that the size of the boxes is only a bit dependent on the value they contain – proportional areas, or all the same, would be better IMHO.

The chart bought one thing home to me and, delivered a few surprises.

It shows that the US really is an oil-fed nation (and I suspect the oil input to the chemical industry is not included).

I assumed that the nuclear fraction would be larger, and that natural gas would be a smaller player – and not actually more important than coal.

And geothermal seems to make quite a contribution – it is only a tiny fraction of the total, as expected, but delivers far more than solar generation, and almost as much as wind power.


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  1. 'Alice'
    September 11, 2009 11:16

    Thanks Mike.
    The sooner we get away from thermodynamic processes, the better!

  2. Mike Read
    August 18, 2009 12:20

    “rejected” energy appears to be that wasted due to efficiency – in the notes at the bottom, the estimated efficiencies of production and use (25% for transportation !) are detailed

  3. 'Alice'
    August 17, 2009 14:10

    Steve, I too have seen those coal trains, having slept by the tracks in Wyoming.
    Note to self – don’t try to sleep there again
    They seemed to be well over a mile long, and something like four of them rumbled past during the night as I remember.
    An impressive feat of coal-shifting.
    I did try to visit one of the mines, but I arrived too late in Gillette to get a tour of the Eagle Butte mine.
    James, I think it must be waste heat, as it is the thermodynamics means that around 2/3 of the energy from a power station, or a car, is heat.

  4. James Head
    August 12, 2009 14:26

    Is “rejected energy” meant to represent wasted energy?

  5. Steve Kurt
    August 12, 2009 03:46

    The chart is an interesting and concise bit of info. I would have thought that coal was a bigger fraction of the US energy budget, but that’s just because I see train loads of coal heading towards the local electrical power plant on a regular basis. To see so much coal roll by is very impressive/scary. It’s rare to get the same visual symbol of petroleum usage.
    from Illinois, USA,
    Steve Kurt

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