The U.S. accounts for only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we consume 26 percent of the world’s energy, making us the largest energy consumers in the world.
Even though a large part of the energy we use is for our homes and businesses to power our appliances and provide light, a majority of our energy is derived from the burning of fossil fuels to run our cars and our factories. These fossil fuels produce 90% of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, and the most excessive and harmful of these gases is carbon dioxide.
Every 24 hours Americans emit about 16 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air during the production of energy. This greatly increases our carbon footprint and its impact on the sustainability of the environment.
What is energy?
Energy is the ability to do work and to make things happen. It is life’s driving force because it allows us to accomplish our everyday tasks. Without it we would not be able to drive our cars, turn on our lights, power our factories, heat our food, trade with other countries and expand our economy.
You can read more about energy sources at the U.S. Department of Energy web site.
What types of energy do we use?
Any source of energy that we use can be categorized into one of two types:
Non-Renewable Energy Sources
Energy sources that can not be replenished in a short period of time because they take millions of years to form. Non-renewable energy sources can be divided into two groups:
- Fossil Fuels – Fossil fuels consist of dead plant and animal matter from millions of years ago that have been deposited deep within the Earth’s core. They were formed by geological processes that mixed these remains with different Earth deposits and broke them down into organic material. Examples include coal, oil and natural gas.
- Nuclear Energy – Energy that comes from splitting the nucleus of a radioactive mineral, such as uranium. Nuclear fuel does not emit carbon dioxide, but it does create radioactive material that can eventually lead to death in all living organisms.
Also known as green energy, this energy utilizes natural resources and can be replenished in a short period of time. There are four main renewable energy sources:
- Solar Energy – Energy from the sun.
- Wind Energy – Energy generated by the wind.
- Geothermal Energy – Energy generated from heat within the Earth.
- Tidal Energy – Energy created by the movement of tidal currents.
You can read more about renewable energy research and development at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory web site.
Where do we use most of our energy?
The U.S. consumes its energy in four main areas:
The U.S. is one of the most highly-industrialized countries in the world, so one-third of its energy is used for industries that package and process goods. The types of industries and manufacturers that consume the most energy are:
- Chemical – The chemical industry is the largest industrial consumer of energy. The U.S. outputs $400 billion every year into this industry, which includes products like nitrogen, sulfuric acid, fertilizers and pesticides.
- Petroleum Refining – The U.S. has one of the largest petroleum refining industries and produces just less than one-quarter of all crude oil in the world. This U.S. industry grows by 2% every year, has over 146 refineries and is run by 59 companies.
- Paper – The U.S. has the largest paper industry in the world. This industry employs over 1.6 million people and has an annual payroll of $46 billion. The U.S. forest and paper industry generates $240 billion in sales every year.
- Metal – The U.S. is the second largest producer of cast metal in the world. Just in 2000 the U.S. shipped 14.1 million tons of cast metal to other countries, generating over $19 billion.
Transportation is the second largest energy consumer in the U.S. because about 28% of the energy we use as a nation goes towards transporting goods around the world. Vehicles are also used to get people to their everyday activities. Types of transportation include:
- Ships and other water vessels
- Other forms of public transportation
Our homes are the third largest consumers of energy. These are the main energy consumers in our residential homes:
- HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Cooling) & Water Heating – These three energy sources make up about 31% of the electricity used in homes. The sources include heating units, water heaters, air conditioners, electric space heaters, ceiling fans and humidifiers. In 2001, of the 100 million U.S. households that were surveyed by the Energy Information Administration, 41 million households used electricity to heat their water and 58 million households used natural gas.
- Kitchen & Laundry – These energy sources consume about one-third of a household’s electricity. Refrigerators are the largest consumers, but separate freezers, dishwashers, microwaves and laundry machines also contribute to the total.
- Lighting & Electronics – Indoor and outdoor lighting, as well as home electronics such as televisions, DVD players, computers, cable boxes and game consoles account for about one-fourth of a home’s total energy consumption.
- Commercial – The final energy consumers are commercial buildings, which use over three-quarters of their energy in the form of electricity and natural gas. Most of the energy is used for space heating, light heating and water heating. The types of commercial buildings that consume the most energy are retail stores, offices, schools, health care facilities, hotels, warehouses, restaurants and grocery stores.
You can read more energy facts at the Energy Information Administration web site.
There are two main things we can do to minimize our carbon footprint and also maintain our need for constant energy. We first need to recognize our energy sources and how much of them we are overusing and abusing. Then we need to reduce our energy consumption. The other thing we can do is to learn how to conserve our energy and live more efficiently in our homes and wherever we go.
The best way to reduce energy consumption and the emission of fossil fuels into the air is to conserve energy. You can conserve energy by following sustainable living practices and using alternative energy sources.
One of the oldest and most reliable forms of renewable energy is solar energy. The sun has been around for billions of years, and it is a reliable source of energy that can be used to heat our homes and generate electricity.
Wind is one of the most plentiful energy sources in the world. It not only helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but it also can be used to generate electricity through generators, turbines and other machines.
Geothermal energy is energy derived from deep within the Earth’s core. It can be generated from volcanoes, hot springs and geysers, and can be used to heat and cool homes, as well as to generate electricity.
Tidal energy is energy created by the rise and fall of ocean tides. It can be controlled by building tidal dams, barrages or fences that harness the energy of the tides and then convert it to electricity with the help of a turbine.
Nuclear energy is created when an atom’s nucleus is split. There are over 100 nuclear power plants in the U.S. and over 400 across the world, and they generate up to 17% of the entire world’s electricity.
Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources formed from dead plant and animal matter that are millions of years old. Over 80% of the world’s entire energy production comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which are also deadly air polluters and contributors to global warming.