An updated analysis published in July 2013 by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggests that the USA is just 39% energy efficient. Put another way, more than half (61%) of the energy that flows through our economy is ultimately wasted.
Of the 95.1 quadrillion British Thermal Units (known as “quads”) of raw input energy used by the US economy in 2012, only 37.0 quads were delivered as end user “energy services”. The other 58.1 quads were, in essence, lost or wasted due to inefficiencies.
For the past ten years the National Laboratory has calculated that US energy waste to be in the region of 50%-58%, but in 2012 this figure jumped to one of the worst levels in decades. However, a senior researcher at the laboratory explained that the jump was mostly due to a change in the way they calculated the end use energy for vehicles and households. After studies into household energy use in areas such as heating, air conditioning and lighting, the figure was dropped from 80% to 65%. Likewise, the efficiency of the internal combustion engine was revised down to 21% from 25%.
Most of the economy’s energy waste stems from electricity generation because most power plants and transmission systems are highly inefficient and the transportation sector is also notoriously inefficient.
There was a time when the US economy used more energy than it wasted? In 1970 the country eked out a slightly better than 50% efficiency performance. Since 1970, however, the substantial growth in energy use for electricity and transportation; both of which are historically poor at turning fuel into work, has caused energy waste to gradually prevail over energy productivity.
Conservation has focused on reducing end user demand for energy in homes, business and industry, and fuel economy in transportation; and although these efforts make a substantial difference the largest energy black hole is in electrical generation and distribution where over 50% of the energy is lost getting from the generator to the end user. And guess who is paying for this, and where is the incentive to improve?