SUMMARY
INTRODUCTION

ENERGY MYTHS

ENVIRONMENTAL MYTHS

OPEN QUESTIONS AND OVERLOOKED REALITIES

POLICY IMPLICATIONS
APPENDIX


 

 

 

 

ENERGY MYTHS

MYTH 3: AMERICA USES ENERGY MAINLY FOR DRIVING AND TRAVELING

In order to best formulate our energy policies, particularly when energy issues are tied up with questions of national security as well as environmental stewardship, it helps to have a firm understanding of just what we use energy for. As the survey results show, Americans lack this understanding.

Given the particular emphasis commonly placed on petroleum issues and the Middle East, it makes sense that just under half of the survey’s respondents (48.7 percent) answered that driving and traveling constitute Americans’ main use of energy.

These answers suggest that when we think about energy issues, we do so in the context of our own experience. There is good reason for this: each of us is confronted daily with many ways to use energy, from the hot water in our showers, to the air conditioner in the living room, to the service station where we fill up our cars. We are less inclined to think of how energy is consumed more broadly throughout the economy.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, our energy consumption breaks down in the following ways: industrial sector, 32 percent; transportation sector, 28 percent; residential sector, 22 percent; and commercial sector, 18.[5]

As is sometimes the case with government statistics, those numbers do a poor job of describing the manner in which we use energy. As mentioned on page X, a better (and simpler) way to think of our energy consumption is in terms of a 40/30/30 energy economy. We do three basic things with the 100 or so quads of fuel that we use: generate electricity (roughly 40 percent); generate raw heat (30 percent); and move vehicles (30 percent). Viewed through this lens, it is clear that transportation is not America’s main use of energy but just one of three major uses (and of those does not even constitute the largest share).

In the conventional sense—that is, when we think about where we use energy and what we use it for—there is no one thing that describes our “main” use of energy. In the unconventional sense, however, one can make the case that there actually is a single main use of energy that does not at first come to mind, namely, “wasting” it. The energy we use, whether in our gas tanks, our microwaves, or our air conditioners, can be used only after it is processed and refined into something usable. That necessarily entails waste. A power plant may lose half of the energy in a lump of coal in order to convert the other half into usable electricity. An automobile, which is really nothing more than a miniature power plant on wheels, is far less efficient in converting the energy in its gas tank into usable power.

When you hear government officials bemoaning how much energy we waste, remember that it takes energy to make energy. There is simply no way around this “waste.” As Peter Huber and Mark Mills state in The Bottomless Well: “Some 80 to 95 percent of the energy we use never moves a useful payload like the driver in the car, never emerges from the glowing filament as a useful lumen of light, never leaves an antenna as useful electromagnetic waves, never heats food in an oven or cools it in a refrigerator, never makes it to the final point where it actually gets put to human ends…. It is only by throwing most of the energy away that we can put what’s left to productive use.” [6]

 

 

ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT: MYTHS AND FACTS

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Press Release

MEDIA INQUIRIES:

Clarice Smith
Deputy Director,
Communications
Manhattan Institute
(212) 599-7000

 

 


Copyright The Manhattan Institute 2007