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March 09, 2011

The Energy Talk, part 2

By: Aaron Datesman

A “Quad”, or quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTUs), is a convenient unit of energy (not power) usage at nation-size scales. It’s especially convenient because the United States uses about 100 Quads of energy annually. The sources and outflows of this energy are shown on the diagram below.

Energy Flow.jpg

(credit to Dr. Patricia Dehmer, DOE-SC)

For me, the interesting takeaway from this diagram is that the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors are each responsible for roughly equal portions of our energy consumption. Perhaps others will find other details to be more revealing.

— Aaron Datesman

Posted at March 9, 2011 07:01 PM

I think a state-by-state breakdown would reveal different splitting between the various sectors. e.g., California where residential energy consumption is not as big a deal owing to low heating and cooling costs. Or NYC versus New England where much more heat is lost to old detached homes, compared to old apartment buildings with less outside-facing walls.

Anyhow, it seems to me that picking one or two of these and throwing the kitchen sink at them might do well enough to resolve most of our problems as well as get some state-level actors on board.

Posted by: Tom at March 9, 2011 07:28 PM

One important takeaway is that residential, commercial, and industrial all have a common source of power consumption--energy used in buildings. Sustainable architecture design and retrofitting for technology featuring passive solar heating, natural light, waste-heat greenhouses, and salvaged material construction would save an enormous amount of energy. This is also encouraging because no national initiatives or federal funding is required, anybody can install and use these technologies to some extent.

Posted by: Gordon at March 9, 2011 07:54 PM

Please help me understand why every accounting of this sort seems to be missing the pair of woolly elephants in the hamster wheel:

Military & Imports

Much of the energy consumption in these happens abroad, and possibly in getting imports here (and sending materials away to come back as products)--is that included in transport already?

Oh, and what about food? Isn't that energy? One of the only ones that's important, I'd argue. It's my transportation fuel of choice even if conventional food has a high energy input from petroleum products.

For a complete accounting, the energy spent in American-ordered political and commercial enterprises abroad should also be considered, though it's not going to be as big, except during black box operations.

Lastly, I'd love to see how this all compares to the rest of the world. That would be the eye-opener.

Posted by: Joel P at March 10, 2011 06:01 AM

i don't think military is small, but i do think our civilian side is much bigger.

my favorite example: in the 2003 invasion of iraq, the military drove to baghdad in a historic convoy of tens of thousands of vehicles.

2003 baghdad convoy:

meanwhile on the civilian side, americans buy more than 10 million cars every year.

usa new car production:


Posted by: hapa at March 10, 2011 01:11 PM

oooooooops look that line of dots did not wrap

Posted by: hapa at March 10, 2011 01:32 PM

hapa: AGREED. Unless someone can talk the whole world into shutting of the lights and getting a horse, OUR problem isn't going away. WE will STILL be fossil fuel dependent. If 10 million gas guzzlers are sold each year, that's 10 million INVESTMENTS that the owners won't want to walk away from.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at March 10, 2011 02:06 PM

Forgive me for my ignorance but I don't see value in the observation "that the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors are each responsible for roughly equal portions of our energy consumption," as I know of no measure of the relative intensities of the different sectors. How much industry is one residency worth? What is one residency? Are each equally responsible for our society as a whole? Should these be measured with respect to the sum of tenants/owners, employees, and customers? How much is a commercial or industrial customer worth when compared with a residential or even a apartment or condominium complex customer? Perhaps the energy consumption by sector weighted by the total consumption of the sector in terms of dollar costs would be valuable or a comparison across different societies as has been suggested would be valuable but I fail to see, and it is my failure, the significance in the simple absolute power requirements across sectors has been shown here.

Going by the Sim City model where the intensity of the residential sector is equal to the sum of the intensity of the commercial and industrial sectors and is equal to the intensity of the transportation sector the information shown would suggest that Americans spend more energy in industry and commerce in aggregate then they do in living and transportation individually. I still fail to see the significance even in the light of this highly questionable intensity measurement.

In a different model it may state that each sector is just as vital as the others for the survival of a society and thus they should all have the same intensities and (at a great stretch) generally the same consumptions. This would predict that the energy consumptions of the different sectors should be roughly equal. This argument is also full of gaping holes.

Also it seams to me that industrial energy consumption is twice that of commercial.

Looking at the rest of the presentation, slide 16 shows that relative to industrial and transportation consumption, residential and commercial consumption was lower in 1950 as compared with 2009. This is amongst other more valuable conclusions from comparing slide 16 and slide 14.

Slide 60 suggests that the energy consumption by sector as a portion of the whole (ignoring wasted electricity) is: residential 15.98%, commercial 11.9%, industrial 33.31%, and transportation 38.77%. I do see value in the statement that almost two fifths of all of the energy consumed in the United States goes into moving things around rather then doing things with them. It seams like your conclusion, Mr. Datesman, may be incorrect in any event though there are no order of magnitude differences.

The only value I see in that observation would be in comparison with other societies or with or between sub-societies as has been suggested and such value would be nuanced. Quads per year consumed per capita in each of the sectors for a society (per capita with respect to the population of the entire society) in a comparative sense would not be so nuanced.

Note: when I'm talking about comparisons I am talking about both temporal as well as spacial comparisons.

Posted by: Benjamin Arthur Schwab at March 10, 2011 02:19 PM


I take some of your points, although I think you're overthinking others. In any event I'm glad you clicked through to read the whole presentation. Maybe the RCIT split seems intuitive to you, and that's fine. To me it doesn't seem so. For instance, it's rather surprising to me that, after many decades of de-industrialization, the largest of these four sectors continues to be Industrial.

The value in this energy flow diagram lies in how it can be used to guide improvements, especially efficiency improvements. For instance, DOE runs, out of its Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, an Industrial Technologies Program focused on increasing output of goods per unit of input energy.

There are similar efforts in transportation, residential buildings, and commercial buildings. Breaking the energy usage patterns down in this way allows intelligent assessments to be made about what activities are most likely to show the greatest benefits.

This system is so large and so complex it's amazing that anything about it can be known at all. Form your opinions carefully - many things which seem totally obvious are most definitely wrong.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at March 10, 2011 05:09 PM

america still builds stuff like crazy. deindustrialization is a myth. (if it weren't, NAFTA would have been pointless. NAFTA was as much about smoothing north american manufacturing chains as it was about labor arbitrage.)

in absolute terms, the myth is useful to the PTB to hide how they underhandedly undermine household income by declaring offshoring & automation 'natural.' (i.e. "good jobs died the day the factory did. it only looks like corporate america now has record profits to the simpleminded.")

in relative terms, american industrial & manufacturing share of gross domestic product has shrunk because of growth in services, exaggerated by the ungodly useless heights of the finance & medical sectors.

Posted by: hapa at March 10, 2011 05:37 PM

mike meyer: cars are the vulnerability. if we could design fossil-fuel internal combustion out of the personal transport picture, we'd have plenty of time to deal with the more complicated fuel needs of trucks, boats, planes. (trains and even muni buses are easy to electrify. many of my city's buses are powered by a dam near yosemite nat'l park.)

Posted by: hapa at March 10, 2011 05:45 PM

also, as amory lovins points out all the time, american industrial energy efficiency sucks eggs. it would in fact be a national embarrassment to a country with its head out of its ass.

Posted by: hapa at March 10, 2011 05:54 PM

Hapa -

Deindustrialization is a myth? Hm. I will have to think about that some, perhaps while standing on the corner of 4th Street in my childhood near-home of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Or my erstwhile adult home of Pittsburgh. Or Chicago.

You might be right. But I doubt it.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at March 10, 2011 06:13 PM

Mr. Datesman:

I see the point now and I thank you for the clarification. From the data industrial energy consumption is over three times that of commercial and over twice that of residential which makes sense for me. While striking the large chunk for transportation also makes complete sense as my life's experiences lead me to conclude that, in any setting, transportation is a big deal.

I agree with Mx. hapa but would like to expand on xyr point. In economics I've been taught that the United States no longer has a comparative advantage to the global mean in labor intensive manufacturing (while still maintaining an absolute advantage) but still maintains a comparative advantage in capital intensive manufacturing. In lay terms it has been taught to me that, in terms of classical economics, it makes sense for manufacturing involving a lot of people doing simple repetitive tasks to occur in less developed countries while it makes sense for manufacturing involving few people operating complex machines to occur in more developed countries. There is no economic incentive for all manufacturing to leave this country, only the right kind.

The United States had a great global advantage in manufacturing in the 50's and 60's because most of the manufacturing outside of the Americas was destroyed in the 40's leaving the United States head and shoulders above the rest. Unless the United States again destroys the rest of the worlds manufacturing capabilities we cannot regain the dominance that one existed. This isn't to say that American manufacturing has declined but rather the the rest of the world has caught up... 20 to 40 years ago.

From what I know a lot of manufacturing still occurs in the United States with huge increases in productivity: the benefits of which go to those who are already wealthy. Increased trade and decreased transaction costs also bring great benefits in aggregate (as classically measured) which also go to those who are already wealthy. The changes that are occurring are being used to obscure and conflate other changes as hapa suggests.

Posted by: Benjamin Arthur Schwab at March 10, 2011 06:20 PM

AD: standing on a corner is an anecdote about particular parts of particular industries' paths, in time & space. it tells you nothing about other corners where factories appeared, or grew.

Posted by: hapa at March 10, 2011 06:34 PM

Mr. Datesman

Part of the neo-liberal policies of the eighties was to de-industrialize the north while industrializing the south in a more business friendly environment.

Posted by: Benjamin Arthur Schwab at March 10, 2011 07:49 PM