Just did an exam this morning on energy and the environment. I had to review world energy statistics, different types of energy production and fuels and well, just how we use energy in general. It was pretty interesting and pretty eye opening in a lot of ways.
Thought I’d share some of the findings because I think that energy issues are important for everyone and we can’t expect everyone to read International Energy Agency stats etc.
BIRD’S EYE VIEW: FOSSIL FUELS VS. RENEWABLES
- About 80% of our total energy supply comes from the fossil fuels: oil, coal and gas (factsheet here)
- 13% goes to renewable energies… but wait, before getting to excited about that number:
- 10% goes to combustible renewables and waste – i.e. developing countries that have to burn wood (usually by clear cutting in very unsustainable ways) or worse, cow dung to do their basic cooking and heating – without pollution controls, this is an incredibly inefficient way of getting energy and smoke pollution and CO2 levels are dangerously high
- 2% goes to hydro (big thing for making electricity) – although good on a small scale, there are some serious environmental problems when the dams get too big (think Three Gorges Dam in China and then think no more happy thoughts…)
- Sorry… anything that has little impact on the environment has 0.5% of the total supply… combined.
SO HOW MUCH ENERGY DO WE ACTUALLY USE?
Think about when you turn on a light. The useful energy (light) came from the socket in the wall (electricity) which was distributed to you via a huge network of power lines and cables from the electrical power unit in your community. The fuel that powers the company most likely came from coal, natural gas or hydropower. In every single transition, there’s a loss of useful energy. These losses are not small either…
From the coal that goes into the modern coal-fired power plant to the incandescent light bulb that you use – at the end of the day, you may only be seeing 2% of the actual energy in the coal. WHAT?! That’s a loss of 98%! UNBELIEVABLE!
(This is from my textbook – but for those that are questioning the metrics behind this, coal plant’s are usually about 35% efficient and the incandescent bulb turns only about 5% of this into light)
Even I didn’t fully understand the importance of this energy conversion efficiency… now it’s making a lot more sense and definitely opening the eyes.
Most of us go through our daily lives without ever thinking about where our energy comes from. And granted, why should we? We pay the bill and that’s it. How can we, as consumers, start asking for better solutions when most of us have no idea what’s going on in the first place?
Next… SAD STORIES on the energy front
(Don’t worry after that I’ll bring up some happy news:)