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 surveys 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.
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.
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 Americas main use of energy but
just one of three major uses (and of those does not even constitute the largest
In the conventional sensethat is, when we think about where we use energy
and what we use it forthere 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 whats left to productive use.