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US energy usage, energy consumption
Transportation made up a significant amount of American energy usage in 2016, according to a new graph by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

How much energy did Americans use in 2016?

Last week, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory released its latest energy flow chart depicting American energy usage in 2016. The laboratory releases a fantastic, compact little diagram showing the sources of U.S. energy, what it’s used for, and how much of it is wasted.

energy usage, US energy sources

Vox does a great job of explaining this little graph, which measures energy consumption in what they call “quads.” A quad is  lot of energy. Vox puts it into perspective. A standard BTU, or British thermal unit, is the heat required to raise the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit. A BTU is also equal to about 1055 joules of energy. A “quad” is one quadrillion (a thousand trillion) BTUs. Some things equivalent to one quad include these:

  • 8,007,000,000 gallons (US) of gasoline
  • 293,071,000,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh)
  • 36,000,000 metric tons of coal
  • 970,434,000,000 cubic feet of natural gas
  • 25,200,000 metric tons of oil

So when you see the number of quads that Americans consumed (and wasted) in 2016, the numbers are pretty mind boggling. But it gives you some idea of why energy production at home is such an important, and often politicized, conversation.

Looking at the diagram, you can see the grey portion represents the “rejected,” or wasted energy. Almost two-thirds of the potential energy embedded in our energy sources was wasted in 2016, and we’re not getting more efficient. Vox tells us that the decline in overall efficiency has to do with inefficient energy systems.

It really highlights the enormous potential of better-designed systems — especially better electricity and transport systems, along with better urban systems (i.e., cities) — to contribute to the country’s carbon reduction goals. We could double our energy use, with no increase in carbon emissions, just by halving our energy waste.

One other interesting part of Vox’s analysis was in comparing the spaghetti diagram from 2010 to last year. How has American energy usage changed in the last several years? It’s not surprising to see a reduction in coal, down 21 quads. Natural gas is up significantly, too, which we know is replacing some of the coal energy due to increased regulation and the concern about carbon emissions and climate change.

Transportation, however, is not “decarbonizing,” and it is just as dependent on petroleum now as it was in 2010. Carbon emissions in this area are rising. To quote Vox, “transportation is a huge, looming, and almost entirely unsolved climate problem.” You can also see in the graph the significant amount of “rejected” energy that comes from transportation.

If you’re interested in looking a bit deeper, the LLNL also created several state diagrams in 2014, showing energy usage, flow and sources in particular states. You can see how Oregon, for example, generates much of its electricity from hydroelectric sources, while Vermont’s nuclear power generation was significantly higher than other states. You can look at some of the state diagrams by visiting the LLNL website.


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