Energy Consumption

Think about how you use energy every day. You wake up to an alarm clock. You take a shower with water warmed by a hot water heater. You listen to music on the radio as you dress. You catch the bus to school. That’s just the energy you use before you get to school! Every day, the average American uses about as much energy as is stored in seven gallons of gasoline. Energy use is sometimes called energy consumption.

Who uses energy?

The U.S. Department of Energy divides energy users into four groups: residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation. These groups are called the sectors of the economy.

Residential and Commercial Sector

Any place where people live is considered a residential building. Commercial buildings include offices, stores, hospitals, restaurants, and schools. Residential and commercial buildings are grouped together because they use energy in the same ways—for heating and cooling, lighting, heating water, and operating appliances.

Together, homes and buildings consume more than a third of the energy used in the United States today. In the last 30 years, Americans have reduced the amount of energy used in their homes and commercial buildings. We still heat and cool rooms, and heat hot water. We have more home and office machines than ever. Most of the energy savings have come from improvements in technology and in the ways the equipment is manufactured.

  • Heating & Cooling
  • It takes a lot of energy to heat rooms in winter and cool them in summer. Half of the energy used in the average home is for heating and cooling rooms. The three fuels used most often for heating are natural gas, electricity, and heating oil. Today, more than half the nation’s homes use natural gas for heating.Most natural gas furnaces in the 1970s and 1980s were about 60 percent efficient. That means they converted 60 percent of the energy in the natural gas into usable heat. New gas furnaces are designed to be up to 98 percent efficient. The second leading fuel for home heating is electricity. Electricity also provides almost all of the energy used for air conditioning. The efficiency of heat pumps and air conditioners has increased more than 50 percent in the last 30 years.

    Heating oil is the third leading fuel used for home heating. In 1973, the average home used 1,300 gallons of oil a year. Today, that figure is about 800 gallons, a significant decrease. New oil furnaces burn oil more cleanly and operate more efficiently.
    In the future, we may see more use of renewable energy sources, such as geothermal and solar energy, to heat and cool our homes and workspaces.

  • Lighting
  • Homes and commercial buildings also use energy for lighting. The average home spends 10 percent of its electric bill for lighting. Schools, stores, and businesses use about 38 percent of their electricity for lighting. Most commercial buildings use fluorescent lighting. It costs more to install, but it uses a lot less energy to produce the same amount of light.Most homes still use the type of light bulb invented by Thomas Edison over 100 years ago. These incandescent bulbs are not very efficient. Only about 10 percent of the electricity they consume is converted into light. The other 90 percent is converted to heat.

    Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) can be used in light fixtures throughout homes. Many people think they cost too much to buy (about $3 – $10 each), but they actually cost less overall because they last longer and use less energy than incandescent bulbs.

  • Appliances
  • Over the last 100 years, appliances have changed the way we spend our time at home. Chores that used to take hours can now be done in minutes by using electricity instead of human energy. In 1990, Congress passed the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act, which requires appliances to meet strict energy efficiency standards. As a result of this Act, home appliances have become more energy efficient. Water heaters, refrigerators, clothes washers, and dryers all use much less energy today than they did 25 years ago.

  • Appliance and Energy Efficient Ratings
  • When you buy an appliance, you should pay attention to the yellow EnergyGuide label on every appliance. This label tells you the Energy Efficiency Rating (EER) of the appliance. The EER tells how much it costs to operate the appliance.

  • Payback Period
  • Whether you buy a furnace, hot water heater, or other home appliance, you must choose the best bargain. Since most highefficiency systems and appliances cost more than less efficient ones, you have to know how much it will cost to operate the appliance each year and how many years you can expect to use it. The payback period is the amount of time you must use a system or appliance before you begin to benefit from energy savings. For example, if you buy an efficient refrigerator that costs $100 more, but uses $20 less electricity each year, you would begin saving money after five years. Your payback period would be five years. Since refrigerators usually last ten years, you would save $100 over the life of the appliance and save natural resources.

Industrial Sector

The United States is a highly industrialized country. We use a lot of energy. Today, the industrial sector uses 31 percent of the nation’s energy. Since 1973, the industrial sector has grown by two-thirds, but has used only 15 percent more energy to fuel that growth. Every industry uses energy, but six energy-intensive industries use most of the energy consumed by the industrial sector.

  • Petroleum Refining
  • The United States uses more petroleum than any other energy source. Petroleum provides the U.S. with about 37 percent of the energy we use each year. Petroleum can’t be used as it comes out of
    the ground. It must be refined before it can be used. Oil refineries use a lot of energy to convert crude oil into gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil, chemicals, and other products. Almost half of a refinery’s operating costs (43 percent) is for energy. Refineries today use about 25 percent less energy than they did in 1973.

  • Steel Manufacturing
  • The steel industry uses energy to turn iron ore and scrap metal into steel. Hundreds of the products we use every day are made of steel. It is a very hard, durable metal and it must be heated to very high
    temperatures to manufacture it. Producing those high temperatures takes a lot of energy. The cost of energy in the steel industry is 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of making the steel. Most of this energy comes from coal, or electricity generated from coal. Since 1973, the steel industry has reduced its energy consumption by 45 percent per ton of steel. New technology has made steel
    stronger so that less steel is needed for many uses. For example, the Willis Tower, formerly the Sears Tower, in Chicago could be built today using 35 percent less steel.

    The use of recycled steel also saves energy. It requires 33 percent less energy to recycle steel than to make it from iron ore. Today, twothirds of new steel is made from recycled scrap, making steel the nation’s leading recycled product.

  • Aluminum Manufacturing
  • Aluminum is a very light-weight, versatile metal. We use aluminum to make soft drink cans, food wrap, car parts, and many other products. It takes huge amounts of electricity to make aluminum from bauxite, or aluminum ore. The cost of electricity is 30 percent of the cost of manufacturing aluminum. Today, it takes 23 percent less electricity to produce a pound of aluminum than it did 30 years ago, mainly because of recycling.

  • Paper Manufacturing
  • The United States uses enormous amounts of paper every day— newspapers, books, bags, and boxes are all made of paper. Energy is used in every step of paper making. Energy is used to chop,
    grind, and cook the wood into pulp. More energy is used to roll and dry the pulp into paper. In 1973, the amount of energy needed to make one ream (500 sheets) of copy paper was equal to 3.7 gallons
    of gasoline. Today, with advanced technologies, the energy used to make the same amount of paper would equal just two gallons of gasoline. The paper and pulp industry uses 42 percent less energy today, mainly because of better technology. Many industries have lowered energy use by using recycled materials. In the paper and pulp industry, it is not cheaper to use recycled paper because it costs
    money to collect, sort, and process the waste paper. Recycling has other benefits, though. It reduces the amount of paper in landfills and means fewer trees must be cut.

  • Chemical Manufacturing
  • Chemicals are an important part of our lives. We use chemicals in our medicines, cleaning products, fertilizers and plastics, as well as in many of our foods. The chemical industry uses energy in two ways. It uses coal, oil, and natural gas to power the machinery to make the chemicals. It also uses petroleum and natural gas as major sources of hydrocarbons from which the chemicals are made. New technology has made the chemical industry 60 percent more energy efficient than it was 30 years ago.

  • Cement Manufacturing
  • Some people think the United States is becoming a nation of concrete. New roads and buildings are being built everywhere, every day. We use lots of concrete. Concrete is made from cement, water, and crushed stone. A lot of energy is used in making cement. The process requires extremely high temperatures—up to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Cement plants have reduced their energy consumption by onethird using innovative waste-to-energy programs. More than half of the cement plants in the U.S. now use some type of waste for fuel. These wastes, such as printing inks, dry cleaning fluids and used
    tires, have high energy content. For example, the energy content of one tire equals that of two gallons of gasoline. This industry is using energy that would otherwise be wasted in a landfill.

Transportation Sector
The United States is a big country. The transportation sector uses twenty-seven percent of the energy supply to moving people and goods from one place to another.

  • The Automobile
  • Americans love automobiles. We love to drive them. We don’t want anyone telling us what kind of car to buy or how much to drive it. Thirty years ago, most Americans drove big cars that used a lot of gas. The gas shortages of the 1970s didn’t change Americans’ driving habits much. What did change was the way automobiles were built. Automakers began making cars smaller and lighter. They built smaller and more efficient engines.One reason for the changes was that the government passed laws requiring automobiles to get better gas mileage. With new technologies, cars now travel more miles on each gallon of gas. Today, passenger cars get an average of 30 miles per gallon. If automakers hadn’t made these changes, we would be using 30 percent more fuel than we do today.

    In 1973, there were 102 million cars on the road. Today, there are more than 135 million cars. There are more cars being driven more miles than ever before. Almost half of the passenger vehicles sold in 2008 were sport utility vehicles and light trucks. With the recent fluctuations in fuel prices, however, demand for these big vehicles has dropped, while demand for hybrids and other fuel efficient vehicles has increased.

  • Commercial Transportation
  • Passenger cars consume about two-thirds of the fuel we use for transportation. Commercial vehicles consume the rest. These vehicles—trains, trucks, buses, and planes—carry people and products all across this vast country. Commercial vehicles have also become more fuel efficient in the last 30 years.

  • Trucks use more fuel than any other commercial vehicle. Almost all products are at some point transported by truck. Trucks are big and don’t get good gas mileage. They have diesel engines and can travel farther on a gallon of diesel fuel than they could on a gallon of gasoline. In the last thirty years, trucks have improved their gas mileage from 4.8 miles per gallon to about seven miles per gallon.
  • Trains carry most of the freight between cities. In the last 30 years, trains have improved their fuel efficiency by 60 percent. Trains are lighter and stronger and new locomotives are more efficient.
  • Airplanes
  • move people and products all over the country. In 2008, more than 800 million passengers flew on planes. Airlines are twice as efficient today as they were 30 years ago. Fuel is one of the biggest operating costs for airlines. Making planes more energy efficient is very important to airlines.

  • Mass Transit
  • is public transportation for moving people on buses, trains, light rail, and subways. Today, there are about eight billion trips made on public transit systems. That sounds like a lot, but it is less than the number of trips made in 1970. Why is this? One reason is that Americans love their cars. Another is that people have moved from cities to suburbs and many businesses have followed. Most mass transit systems were designed to move people around cities or from suburbs to cities. Very few systems move people from suburb to suburb.

    Most people worry about air pollution from auto exhaust. They also worry about traffic congestion. Congress has passed legislation supporting public transit. If public transit is convenient and the cost is reasonable, people may leave their cars at home.

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