top of page

US Energy consumption

You probably have never seen this chart depicting US energy production and consumption by fuel source. Still, study it for just a few minutes. You will quickly understand that in the absence of a massive increase in the number of nuclear power plants in this country, achieving an economy that is no longer dependent on fossil fuels is not something that will ever become a reality in your lifetime.,natural%20gas%2032%25%20petroleum%2036%25

At this point in time, 60.8% of our electrical power is generated by fossil fuels (primarily coal & Natural gas), 18.9% by nuclear, 6.3% by Hydro, and 12 % by wind and solar (9.2% by wind, 2.8% solar).   But that is just the energy used to generate electrical power and does not include the energy consumed from fossil fuels burned to power vehicles, airplanes, trains, ships, heat homes & businesses, or used in the industrial process such as food processing and industrial furnaces and drying ovens. 
When you add in those other energy needs (shown in the first chart), electrical power generation drops to less than HALF of all power consumed in this country.  You will see that if you look at the second EIA chart (for only), electrical power generation shows nuclear being responsible for 18.9% of electrical power generation but only 8% of all power consumed (including transportation and heating uses).  8% divided by 18.9% is just 42% which means that non-electrical fuel usage (such as powering vehicles and heating) accounts for 58% of our current energy consumption.
So if tomorrow we were to convert every vehicle, airplane, furnace, stove, water heater, and industrial heating or drying process to an electric-powered alternative, we would need to increase our electrical generating capacity (and power transmission capability) by more than 200%.  And why is more than 200% and not just the 138% increase required to go from 42% electric power consumption to 100% electric power? 
Simple:  Transmission & line losses.  Look at the box at the bottom of chart one that shows 65% of all electrical power lost to production & transmission losses.  The transmission and transformation of electric power (Transforming it into high voltage @ 350,000 volts for transmission and then transforming it back to low voltage @220 Volts for home & business use) generates heat in the transmission lines, and in all of those substations and transformers, including the one on the pole outside your house.
So if we would need to increase our current power generation capability by at least 200% (3X our current generation capability)  to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by vehicles & businesses, that would drop our current wind & solar capabilities from 12% of all power generation to just 4% of that need.  Without additional nuclear power, that 4% would have to increase by more than 2,000% to 80% of all electrical power generation to achieve a zero fossil fuel electric economy.
But wait, there's more!

Is the sub-station in your neighborhood, the power lines running down your street, the transformer on the pole outside your house, or the circuit breaker panel in your basement sized to handle a more than 100% increase in that power usage?  The answer is NO, which means that even if the US could create that additional generating capacity, virtually every power line, substation, transformer, and electrical panel in this country would have to be upgraded and/or replaced to handle the transmission & delivery of that additional electric power.
But wait, there's more! 
If you generously assume that wind & solar can only produce close to their rated power output 50% of the time (because little to no power is generated by solar panels when it is dark or cloudy and zero for wind turbines when the wind isn't blowing or blowing too fast) that means that you would have to create wind & solar panel generation capability at least 2X the average daily power consumption and then develop a means to store that excess power to feed back into the grid during periods when the sun isn't shining. The wind isn't blowing (or blowing too fast) to produce electric power from those wind & solar sources. 
Do we currently have the battery technology (or other viable methods) to store enough power to power a city the size of Chicago for 3-4 days when it is raining or snowing, and there is not enough wind to spin wind turbines?  Again the answer is "NO," and the technology to economically achieve large-scale energy storage is also decades away.
So anybody (including politicians) who tells you that we can achieve a "Zero carbon emission" economy in your or their lifetime clearly doesn't know what they are talking about. f you know anybody who believes that, consider sharing this analysis with them.

bottom of page