Periodically, it’s nice to step back and get reacquainted with some energy basics. There’s no better way to do it than with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s famed (or oughtta be famed) energy flow charts. Here’s the most recent, from 2009 (click for larger version):
I’m not going to ruin the pretty picture with a bunch of wonk talk. Just a few basic things that are worth noticing:
1. Holy sh*t we waste a lot of energy!
I mean seriously. Look up there in the top right — “rejected energy.” Well over half of the raw energy that enters our economy goes to waste. That is a scandal. If we lived in a sane country, it would be the top item on the energy policy agenda. Instead Republicans ignore it entirely and Dems nibble at the margins.
2. Damn we use a lot of oil!
And almost all of it goes to transportation. If we want to cure our “addiction to oil,” we have to drive less and use electricity or natural gas for fuel when we do drive. The oil problem is the car problem.
3. Natural gas is already huge.
Everyone expects natural gas to do the bulk of the work making electricity cleaner in the next few decades. Depending on how fast (or whether) all the new supplies from shale come in on schedule, more natgas for electricity could mean less for heating and industrial uses, or at least higher prices for them. Something to watch.
4. Renewables are nowhere.
You already knew this, but: despite the hype around them, wind and solar are a negligible part of our current energy mix. This isn’t to say they can’t be ramped up quickly — they can and should be — but right now, they are rounding errors. We’ve got a long way to go.
David Roberts is staff writer for Grist.