Energy Flow in the United States – 94.6 quads in 2009

Guest post by Ric Werme

The folks at Lawrence Livermore Natl. Labs produce a fascinating look at all the energy production in the US, from energy in (as quadrillion BTUs, or quads for short) to energy out:

US Energy Flow 2009

US Energy Flow 2009, click for full size version

This was featured in a post at Grist.org which has been picked up by several other sites. Even though the graph refers to “rejected energy,” Grist and other posters referred to it as “wasted energy.” I was pleased to see that commentors at Grist quickly pointed out that the inconvenient Laws of Thermodynamics say you can’t get 100% efficiency from thermal systems. (Well, you can, but only if the heat sink is at absolute zero, and we don’t have one.)

I pointed that out at the newspaper blog, and was going to include the link to the discussion here for a previous year’s graphic, but I can’t find it here or at chiefio, or other place I would have been. [NOTE – quite possibly it was my post “Constructal GDP“. – willis]

I think we need a good discussion here, this seems tailor made for an eclectic group like ours.

A LLNL starting point for more information is https://flowcharts.llnl.gov/index.html which includes links to detailed descriptions and similar information for 2008.

Comparisons between the two years are interesting. I hadn’t realized that natural gas usage fell. Most of that was due to declining industrial use, it did go up at power plants. Another referrer to these graphics noted that “Wind power increased dramatically in 2009 to 0.70 quads of primary energy compared to 0.51 in 2008.” They didn’t note that several more dramatic increases are necessary for wind power to be a significant source of electricity.

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62 thoughts on “Energy Flow in the United States – 94.6 quads in 2009

  1. One thing that would be helpful to add to this chart is to breakout the the rejected energy numbers for each source of input to electricity generation.

  2. >>
    . . . the inconvenient Laws of Thermodynamics say you can’t get 100% efficiency from thermal systems. (Well, you can, but only if the heat sink is at absolute zero, and we don’t have one.)
    <<

    Thermodynamics also allows 100% efficiency if the heat source is at an infinite temperature. We don’t have one of those either.

    One of the ways to increase efficiency is to run heat engines at higher temperatures. A few years back there was lots of research into ceramic engines. Ceramic engines can run at higher temperature than metal engines but suffer from the usual problems with ceramics–they are brittle and easily crack and fail. Also hotter engines make lubrication harder. The latest anti-carbon rage has probably killed this line of research.

    Jim

  3. If anything it sure shows the hodgepodge of systems. Pretty inefficient which probably explains the high cost of energy.

    In France:

    Origine de l’’électricité : 82,9% nucléaire, 9,3% renouvelables
    (dont 7,5% hydraulique), 3,1% charbon, 3,0% gaz, 1,4% fioul

    consommation HC (low tarif)
    195 jours à 0,0472 cents + 163 jours à 0,0519 Euro
    soit un prix moyen de 0,0493 Euro
    consommation HP (high tarif)
    195 jours à 0,0803 Euro + 163 jours à 0,0839 Euro
    soit un prix moyen de 0,0819 Euro

  4. The bulk of the energy rejected to the atmosphere is attributable to power generation, whether electric power or motive power. In both cases, thermodynamics plays a significant role; so does the acidic nature of condensation in the exhaust of the processes, which limits the minimum exhaust gas temperature in systems using hydrocarbon fuels.

    Natural gas combined-cycle turbine (CCT) power generation systems are substantially more efficient than coal and nuclear generation because of the heat recovery steam generation cycle which bottoms the gas turbine generator. However, even they are only about 55% efficient, based on the higher heating value (HHV) of the fuel.

    Beyond that, co-generation systems are capable of achieving overall thermal efficiencies approaching 80%. However, integrating thermal energy recovery into existing buildings is difficult and expensive, though it can be quite economical in purpose-designed buildings. Proper matching of the electrical and thermal requirements of the building are critical, and storage may be required to time-shift the availability of the thermal energy.

    Diesel-cycle engines are about 50% more efficient than Otto-cycle engines in both stationary and vehicle applications. However, there is resistance to diesel-cycle engines in the US for other than larger trucks. Hybrid vehicles offer the potential to recover a substantial portion of the energy rejected during vehicle braking, but at a significant initial cost penalty. Plug hybrid vehicles can improve the efficiency of the on-vehicle system, but are still burdened with the inefficiencies of the electric power generation system.

    One loss the LLNL charts do not reflect is the inefficiency of buildings in using thermal energy for space conditioning, which can be quire large due to infiltration and conductive and radiative heat losses.

    Were we to start over from scratch, we could build a far more efficient society, even within the limitations of the laws of thermodynamics. I cannot imagine the costs of doing so, however.

  5. Ric,

    The laws of thermodynamics has never met up with mechanics that was actually efficient. Current turbines were never designed for high efficiency just bad at bulk harvesting. The efficiency base 150 years ago on hydro-electric turbine was on how much space was needed between the outer casing to the turbine blade to turn. So, if it was 8%, then the turbine had to be 92% efficient.

    Besides a manufacturers need to make a profit by having to manufacture 20 turbines when one could be sufficient if to take their place. Any energy NOT touching a turbine blade to move it is wasted energy.

  6. The folks at Lawrence Livermore Natl. Labs produce a fascinating look at all the energy production in the US, from energy [in] (as quadrillion BTUs, or quads for short) to energy out:

    Seems to be a word missing.

    [Reply: Fixed, thanks. – Ric]

  7. Petrossa says:
    April 10, 2011 at 10:51 am

    The high cost of energy in France is the tax. 19.6% TVA on all energy. 0.0819 = 8.19cents becomes 9.828cent or 6.552 cent. I paid €200 tax on my recent fioul bill.

  8. I think it would be more realistic if the boxes with the names geothermal, biomass, wind, and solar were sized relative to their contribution. As it is it gives the impression that these contribute more than they do.

    That is probably the intent.

  9. This is the chart to show your friends who want you to turn off your lights or switch to compact fluorescents to ‘save oil’. ‘Almost none’ describes perfectly the amount of petroleum that goes to electrical generation in the US.

  10. Some of that rejected energy comes from the Environazi darlings, especially wind and ethanol for gas.

    Some go so far as to say it takes more energy from coal to produce the wind turbines than the latter ever produce. Also, there is very heavy-duty environmental damage in China mining the rare earths needed for the bird slicers’ magnets.

    Ethanol in cars is even worse. Over half the US corn production goes to a fuel that burns so hot it is dangerous and can damage the car. Other nations are also burning a lot of what used to be foodstuffs. The result has been an explosion of food prices. Some of these have doubled at the wholesale level (wheat) which will eventually mean higher grocery store prices for Americans.

    It already meant such high prices in Tusnisia, Egypt, et al. as to spark rioting. No, sweeties, it is not freedom those people want. They say “Freedom go to hell.” They want food for their eight children. Tens of thousands have died in the riots, and now Soetoro (Obama’s legal name) has bombed Libya, killing more people in a remarkable method of protecting them.

    Ethanol subsidies come from greenies believing in AGW. It is not just so we can have actual science that we fight that pseudoscientific claptrap. Nor is “economics” the most important reason to establish truth. We are fighting for people’s lives.

  11. Jim Masterson says: “One of the ways to increase efficiency is to run heat engines at higher temperatures. A few years back there was lots of research into ceramic engines. Ceramic engines can run at higher temperature than metal engines but suffer from the usual problems with ceramics–they are brittle and easily crack and fail. ”

    I worked on ceramic engine parts a few years ago, the major drawback was cost, they produced less pollution were more efficient but the cost was just to much. Our cheapest piston supplier could make them for $200 to $400 per piston, which may compete with exotic racing pistons, but not with $5 ones for normal engines. The cost to benefit ratio was just not good enough.

    I remember from grad school discussions of turbine engines being much more efficient than piston engines for constant power generation. It would seem to make sense to use this style of engine for hybrid vehicles that use electric drive. Run the turbine at its optimum power rating to charge the batteries then shut it down once the batteries are charged.

  12. Here in the northwest, Bonneville Power has been dealing with actual ‘rejected’ energy, not just wasted. This spring both wind and snowmelt have been extreme, so their windmills and their hydro dams have often been running at max. They can order the wind suppliers to disconnect, but they can’t bypass the dams because the anti-scientific anti-Darwinian Endangered Species Idiocy limits the spillway flow. So Bonneville has to turn off its fossil plants and turn down its nuke plant, and still has far more energy than the grid could carry.

    Without the requirement of wind as part of their mix, this problem wouldn’t arise; and if they didn’t have to avoid embarrassing the %$#%#% ^&&%* ^&$#^ ^$# %#^&%^ !@#!@#!#!!!!!!! Aristocratic Royal Old-Growth Fish, the problem wouldn’t arise.

  13. I have never heard it pointed out that it that turning off lights and computers in the summer saves a whole lot more money than in winter, since in the summer the AC must counteract the heat produced. In winter they just help heat the place up. The inefficiency of Microsoft is a major contributor to energy waste.

  14. Tom Fuller says:
    April 10, 2011 at 10:58 am
    Not much discussion then about 2008 being 100 quads and 2009 being 95….

    It’s because of reduced economic output and reduced demand. Millions of people are unemployed and millions more under employed. If we can get the government out of the way, a strong economic recovery will lead to increased consumption.

  15. Jim Masterson says: April 10, 2011 at 10:45 am

    . . . the inconvenient Laws of Thermodynamics say you can’t get 100% efficiency from thermal systems. (Well, you can, but only if the heat sink is at absolute zero, and we don’t have one.)

    Thermodynamics also allows 100% efficiency if the heat source is at an infinite temperature. We don’t have one of those either.

    Whilst I know what you are trying to say, the truth is that you can get 100% efficiency, you just have to redefine “waste” heat as “useful” heat. Likewise why is any of the transportation energy “useful”? All of it goes to waste, none of it is reusable in any way – even if you include potential energy gain from going up hill, unless all the vehicles are produced at sea level and end their days scrapped on some mountain, the average energy gain is zero, so there is absolutely no useful energy in transportation.

    Personally I think these types of diagrams are sometimes worse than useless from an energy analysis point of view, because we use energy for a purpose and the meaningful value is the energy used doing something not some arbitrary “efficiency”.

    I prefer splitting the diagram into: transportation = energy/mile; heating = energy per house/C/yr or something similar and electricity- which really encompasses most things which are not heating and transportation. You could I suppose add some finer divisions like: cooling (fridges/air conditioning), lighting, stationary motive (machinery), communications (kwh/byte?) etc.

  16. “rejected energy” isn’t really due to inefficiency, but due to energy consumed that is wasted. See, most of that is from transportation, and that is all due to not just waste heat in exhaust gases and radiator emissions, but to vehicles operating but idle: your car sitting in your driveway on idle, jets waiting on the tarmac to take off, cars, trucks and buses sitting in traffic jams, etc.
    Power generating plants experience a similar thing when they are generating power off-peak: putting energy into the system that isn’t being consumed, idling down due to low demand off-peak, windmills spinning in the wind off-peak, dams diverting water to spillways, etc etc.

  17. Cogeneration from engines and MicroTurbines for smaller site hosted DG is anywhere from 80% to 92% efficient running off of good old natural gas TODAY.

    The chart also leaves out the thermal energy LOST/not recovered by PV that is now being recovered by the likes of Cognenra:

    http://www.cogenra.com/why-solar-cogen/how-solar-cogen-works/

    …thinking this equates to ~40-60% lost.

    Given where our TOP energy use goes, I think traditional cogen from natural gas is the way, along with CNG, to dig our way out of our economic and energy woes.

    The sooner we get started….the better.

  18. Scottish Skeptic: “Personally I think these types of diagrams are sometimes worse than useless from an energy analysis point of view, because we use energy for a purpose and the meaningful value is the energy used doing something not some arbitrary “efficiency”.”

    I understand your comment, but, using your example, if we could get the car to perform the same amount of “purposeful” work, while using less energy, wouldn’t that be a desirable thing, all things being equal? Also, you mentioned re-use. I don’t think the point with any of the measurements is re-use. Rather, I think the idea of the graph is to think through the purposeful work being performed and then determine what energy is being used other than in the performance of that work. Reasonable minds can certainly differ on what constitutes useful work, but it seems there is still some value in looking at the energy efficiency concept as well.

  19. A G Foster says:
    April 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm
    “The inefficiency of Microsoft is a major contributor to energy waste.”

    The boot times of Windows these days doesn’t differ much from a Linux (having used Debian and Ubuntu) IMHO… After boot, neither operating system steals a significant amount of processor time. You should of course switch off services you don’t need like that Office indexing stuff.

    If you’re earnest and want to save energy, try working with some Intel Atom 1.6 GHz system – consumes next to nothing and executes Win XP just fine IMHO.

  20. I have never heard it pointed out that it that turning off lights and computers in the summer saves a whole lot more money than in winter, since in the summer the AC must counteract the heat produced. In winter they just help heat the place up. The inefficiency of Microsoft is a major contributor to energy waste.

    As someone who grew up in an area where the Summer temperatures regularly exceed 100F (38C) I can state with extreme confidence that Air Conditioning need not counteract anything (outside of your refrigerator or a Real Server Room®). Personal weakness explicitly not exempted.

  21. There is 5.39% missing from the total energy, where did that go it can’t be all lost in independent rounding can it ?

  22. ew-3 (April 10, 2011 at 10:38 am):
    “One thing that would be helpful to add to this chart is to breakout the the rejected energy numbers for each source of input to electricity generation.”

    The numbers behind the LLNL graphic can be found at http://www.eia.gov/aer/pdf/aer.pdf
    The particular values you mention can be found in section 8. For example, for electricity production from coal in 2009, Table 8.4a gives the energy consumption as 18.325 quads, and Table 8.2a gives the energy production as 1764.5 billion kWh [=6.02 quads]. Be careful with the units! 1 quad is approximately equal to 293 billion kWh. [And why they don’t use TWh instead of “billion kWh” is beyond me.]

  23. “. . . you can’t get 100% efficiency from thermal systems. (Well, you can, but only if the heat sink is at absolute zero, and we don’t have one.) “

    Mighty picky, there. We’re radiating all our excess into space, which has a background temperature of only 2.7 K.

  24. What leaps off the chart and smacks me in the face is that a good way to reduce petroleum use is to convert vehicles to natural gas. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) is a favorite of government agencies, but suffers the problems of compressing the gas and the wasted energy in doing that. Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) doesn’t have this problem, but can’t be stored indefinitely in a vehicle (it boils off if not used every few days). Trucks buses, and railroad locomotives could take advantage of plentiful LNG.

    Plus we in the US have to stop penalizing Diesel cars. Using EPA measurements as a source on car mileage rating http://www.edmunds.com/ cars that are available with Diesel engines get 25% more mileage than Otto engine (gasoline burners) cars of the same make and model. Look at the Volkswagen Jetta that is available in either. Diesel is more expensive here only because of the higher taxes that promote petroleum consumption.

  25. Power dropped by five quads from 08 to 09. Bummer! It might be cool if these were efficiency gains, but no. The drops were due to lost work, production, and wages. Thus, increases in energy costs and other dire consequences.

  26. Gosh, thermodynamics. Thermo 201 is one of the three college courses I took that I’ve actually found useful. (think extra attic insulation)

    As a reminder, here are the three laws of thermo (simplified) –

    1. You can’t win
    2. You can’t break even
    3. You can’t get out of the game

  27. >>
    Mike McMillan says:
    As a reminder, here are the three laws of thermo (simplified) –
    1. You can’t win
    2. You can’t break even
    3. You can’t get out of the game
    <<

    I prefer:

    1. You can’t win. You can only lose or break even.
    2. You can only break even at absolute zero.
    3. You can’t reach absolute zero.

    Jim

  28. There is a way to win!! If you can store heat, through insulation, and collect all waste heat from the thermo. process, and put most of it back into the heat store; you can achieve 60 to 80% thermo. efficiency! [Preheat the input to the heat store.]

    What you were taught in school is correct; but it leaves out additional cycles. If the additional cycles are available, efficiency can be 60 to 80% or more.

    Example:

    1) heat your home with a 95% efficient furnace.
    2) if your home has 2 feet of insulation top, bottom, sides; you will have very little loss. Seal windows with insulted shutters when not in the room!!
    3) you must bring in fresh air via a low temperature heat exchanger (second cycle).
    4) efficiency approx. 80-90% !!!!!! Far better than an old furnace, leaky home (30 to 50%).

    Our government is the box!! To get outside of the box, one must explore other alternatives.

  29. Mike McMillan @April 10, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    Or:
    1: There is no such thing as a free lunch;
    2: The better lunch is, the more it costs; and,
    3: You have to eat something sometime.

    :-)

  30. Nuke says:
    April 10, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    Tom Fuller says:
    April 10, 2011 at 10:58 am
    Not much discussion then about 2008 being 100 quads and 2009 being 95….

    It’s because of reduced economic output and reduced demand. Millions of people are unemployed and millions more under employed. If we can get the government out of the way, a strong economic recovery will lead to increased consumption.
    ________________________

    Energy use is a beneficial use. It is required to support billions of people. Just providing food consumes a large amount per capita. Is this bad? Not at all. We just need to generate the power in better ways.

    Renewables are not up to the task, and never will be. We’ve been over this ground a lot, so I won’t bother getting into it again.

    A natural gas -> nuclear roadmap is a good start. In CA, it is illegal to construct natural gas power plants (SB 1037 Kehoe 2005 [1]), the authority to decide the energy mix and control over fuel contracts goes to the Energy Commission. A 1976 law restricting construction of new nuclear power plants until high level waste storage issues are resolved remains in force [2].

    Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors are very close to being the solution. The older Molten Sodium Reactors that had trouble seem to be ones that used a solid form of fuel rather than liquid ThF6 [3]. MSRs with fuel rods can melt down. Also problems affect the Pebble Bed reactors [4]. The fuel pellets need to be reprocessed in order to burn a large percentage of the fuel. An all liquid reactor design can be constantly reprocessed and neutron absorbers removed automatically by outgassing from the liquid fluoride medium.

    It seems that manufacturers need a requirement for elaborate fuel packaging in order to make a profit. Profits are not a bad thing, however, when you make a system too complicated unnecessarily and create inherent engineering flaws and process challenges, it seems to me there is an ethical problem involved.

    References
    1) ftp://leginfo.public.ca.gov/pub/05-06/bill/sen/sb_1001-1050/sb_1037_bill_20050929_chaptered.html
    2) http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf65.html
    3) http://energyfromthorium.com/essay3rs/
    4) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pebble_bed_reactor

  31. As wind continues to rise as a percent of total generation, so to will the percentage of natural gas that goes to electricity production. You can’t have wind power without something to back it up due to the variability and unpredictability of wind (and we won’t even talk about the inconsequential energy and power density of this ‘energy source’). Gas generation, both peaker turbines and CCGT units are the most flexible when it comes to wind following. Here in Ontario in 2010 wind had a load factor of 25.3% and a median capacity factor of only 14% So far from reducing CO2 emissions (their big selling point) they save none or actually increase CO2 emissions and require electrical ratepayers to pay for the construction of 1MW of gas generation for every 1MW of Wind installed. Since wind is at least twice as expensive as gas that means each MWh of power produced costs 2 to 3 times what it should cost. And that doesn’t include the costs to strengthen the distribution grid and build new transmission lines. Nor does it include the cost of loss of bio-diversity and the environmental impact. Welcome to Renewistan!

  32. >>
    Scottish Sceptic says:
    April 10, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Whilst I know what you are trying to say, the truth is that you can get 100% efficiency, you just have to redefine “waste” heat as “useful” heat. L
    <<

    Not by using thermodynamics. The classical thermodynamic definition of thermal efficiency is:

    eta = 1 – QL/QH

    Of course, this is the maximum theoretical efficiency. Thanks to Lord Kelvin we have the following definition for heat engines using the Carnot cycle:

    QH/QL = TH/TL

    This gives us:

    eta = 1 – QL/QH = 1 – TL/TH

    and we can use the absolute temperature scale named after Lord Kelvin.

    The only way to get waste heat to be useful is to find a heat sink that is at a lower temperature than TL.

    Jim

  33. Tesla_x says
    Basically he says use more natural gas. I say yes and lots more and now. The US is loaded with it and a new site has been discovered in Louisiana that dwarfs most fields. In Texas I know of some that are capped and not used mainly because there are no transmission pipes available. All government trucks and cars can be converted cheaply from what I understand and lots of other things too. We just need a leader to urge us on and -that we lack.

  34. Here’s another link from LLNL with further information on this graphic:

    https://www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2010/NR-10-08-05.html

    I’m surprised to see that Biomass, at 3.88 Quads, is about 10% of Petroleum at 35.27 Quads! That’s a substantial contribution.

    Under the EPA’s “Tailoring Rule,” utilities have limited options for reducing greenhouse gases including increase energy efficiency.

    One of my utility clients scoffs at that, saying that “we are a business and are doing everything we can to increase efficiency!” Amazing folks, I believe ‘em.

  35. One thing that stands out in the chart, solar plays a very tiny part of the electrical generation. We appear to be a long way off from solar electrical making a dent in electricity generation.

  36. Solar, hydro, wind, and biomass are all just different ways of harvesting the same thing. Solar can heat water for a boiler or directly generate electricity from photovoltaics. Or it can evaporate water and lift it to a higher elevation where it becomes potential gravitational energy that can spin a turbine as it falls to generate electricity. Biomass is just solar energy recently stored in chemical bonds of recently growing plants.

    All the rest, except nuclear, are harvesting energy from the sun that was put into storage millions of years ago. So just about all the energy we consume is generated by solar power – the only difference is how and when that solar energy is stored and harvested.

    Just wanted to point that out because ultimately the stored solar power in fossil fuels will run out and we’ll be forced to harvest more recent sunlight. The happy news is that there’s a million times more solar power available every minute than mankind consumes every minute. I expect that synthetic biology holds the key to harvesting it in a cost effective manner. Synthetic biology can produce direct replacements for liquid fuels and natural gas. The flaw in all alternatives is they only generate electricity and electricity is less than half our total energy consumption. In order to grow electricity’s share of energy consumption requires abandoning vast and costly infrastructure in both distrubution and consumption. It requires enormously costly added capacity to electrical grids. None of that has to happen nor will it happen. Synthetic biology is a drop in replacement for liquid and gaseous hydrocarbon fuels required no change in distribution or consumption infrastructure. For that reason, if nothing else, nuclear power was never a viable candidate for supplying more than half our energy consumption. Its much greater cost vs. natural gas and coal makes it even less viable which is why it’s 10% or less of global energy consumption. If it was less expensive than natural gas or coal then we’d have whole different ballgame depending on how much less expensive as the cost savings could help fund converting the ground transporation fleet from liquid to electric and pay for the added capacity in the electrical grid to deliver it to the point of consumption. It would have to be some damn big savings as electric vehicles are far more expensive than internal combustion counterparts. And you’ll never see the aviation fleet go electric. The energy density of batteries doesn’t even come close to the energy density of avgas and kerosene.

  37. What proportion of that “waste” contributes directly to the UHI effect? Seriously, that waste is transferred directly to the atmosphere as sensible heat, surely that is a better explanation for rising air temperatures than positive feedback from a trace gas?

  38. From the little I read most of the energy consumption comes from transportation and heating. There has been more talk lately about having small power generation units in homes to help eliminate line loss and recoup energy losses from heating. So it stands to reason that more efficient compact engines would benefit not only transportation but power generation.

    Unfortunately some of the comments that I have read seem to be self limiting. There are more options then the Diesel cycle, Otto cycle , and Brayton cycle engines. Don’t forget about Stirling cycle, Atkinson cycle, and Miller cycle engines.

    Speaking of Brayton cycle engines I like the Star rotary engine’s prospects, unfortunately those involved in it seem more interested in having a monopoly on the technology then fast tracking it with outside funding.

    http://www.starrotor.com/

    -Cheers

  39. Bulldust,

    As I pointed out on JoNova’s blog a while back, one QUAD is near enough to one exajoule (1 EJ = 1018 J). The 5.5% difference between a QUAD and an EJ is probably quite small compared to the errors of assumptions (especially conversion efficiencies) used to draw the charts.

    If you think Btu are annoying, consider that airconditioning/refrigeration plant is rated in “tons”. Firkin madness!

  40. From Dr. Lurtz on April 10, 2011 at 4:19 pm:

    1) heat your home with a 95% efficient furnace.
    2) if your home has 2 feet of insulation top, bottom, sides; you will have very little loss. Seal windows with insulted shutters when not in the room!!
    3) you must bring in fresh air via a low temperature heat exchanger (second cycle).
    4) efficiency approx. 80-90% !!!!!! Far better than an old furnace, leaky home (30 to 50%).

    With an appropriately sealed house, insulation, and the heat exchanger, you don’t even need a furnace.
    2008 NYT article.
    Wikipedia entry: Passive house.

    There’s not much among the “Green tech” that I trust, especially given the number-finagling used to make things seem more impressive, even economical. But this sure looks like the real deal, with hard numbers and testing to back it up.

    Although there are the usual “unreported” problems as the house ages and those super-efficient sealing and insulation methods stop working. Those much-touted double- and triple-glazing insulated gas-filled window units can fail within 10 years (see here). The cost of replacing the windows and otherwise redoing and rechecking the sealing every 10-15 years is normally not mentioned as factored into the “energy savings” of “modern” homes. But even with that, not having to feed a furnace, likely not even needing air conditioning as well, represents significant savings that should more than cover those maintenance costs.

    Of course, if you really wanted to save money with the home you have then switch to a geothermal heat pump (ground source) for heating, perhaps for cooling as well. Standing column well implementation looks good. Since they yield so much more thermal energy than the electricity they consume, they have greater than 100% thermal efficiency. How can you beat better than 100%? ;-)

  41. “you can’t get 100% efficiency from thermal systems.”

    I think that should read “heat engine” or “energy conversion” systems.

    A room heater comprising a block of coal burning on a tray in the middle of a room is a “thermal system” with 100% efficiency.

  42. Remember that biomass is mostly the burning of wood in homes and the burning of agro-waste in agricultural operations. Likewise wood waste in lumber. (Also keep in mind that such burning is exceptionally dirty in relative terms.) Of course, there is also the shameful conversion of our food into automobile fuel, driving food costs and starvation higher.

  43. @Tom Fuller:

    It’s called ‘a recession’… if you are not commuting to work, your gas usage drops… companies not making plastic don’t consume much petrochemicals. Etc.

    BTW, Natural Gas is a major feedstock to “petrochemical” manufacture, so when industry drops off, the natural gas demand does too; both for things like drying ovens to cure the paint and for the “petrochemicals” in the paint…

    @Dan in California:

    The “easy way” is via Gas To Liquids. Turn the natural gas into gasoline and Diesel. It’s not hard, and then we don’t have to replace all the vehicles and gas stations…

    http://www.chemlink.com.au/gtl.htm

  44. stephen richards says:
    April 10, 2011 at 11:31 am

    You’re talking about fioul. That’s inflated by ecotax.

    Electricity isn’t. They can’t because it’s CO neutral so the ecotax can’t be applied. Which annoys them to no end but its their hole, they dug it.

    My last years electricity bill:

    electricity: 729,30
    local tax: 69,49 (9%) (contribution for the local grid)
    vat: 142,45 (19.5%)
    total 941,24

    As you can see the only high tax is VAT.

  45. A G Foster says:
    April 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    I have never heard it pointed out that it that turning off lights and computers in the summer saves a whole lot more money than in winter, since in the summer the AC must counteract the heat produced. In winter they just help heat the place up. The inefficiency of Microsoft is a major contributor to energy waste.

    Forget about what Microsoft does. It doesn’t matter, but I will come to that.

    As to the rest of your concerns, the answer depends on where you live and how much energy you use for either heating or AC or a mixture of both. Look up “heating-degree days”. Cooling-degree days go hand-in-hand with that. The results vary from location to location and predominantly with latitude.

    However, there is something else that is often mentioned but hardly ever looked at in a practical fashion. That is the amount of energy a PC uses. Is it really such an enormous amount that switching it on or off makes a lot of difference?

    That depends primarily on what sort of monitor is being used. For instance, if you wish to save a lot of energy, make sure you use an LCD screen. That will use hardly any energy. When I was still using a CRT, the energy consumption I had for my PC and peripherals was a little over 300W. When I switched to an LED screen, the energy consumed for everything I’ve got dropped down to 150W. That is a substantial energy saving. Right? No!

    What I saved was off-set by increased heating costs. Our house is located in Central Alberta, Canada. It is being heated most of the year. If we are lucky, we don’t have the furnace ever running during a couple of months out of every year. At times its gets hot enough that I wish we had air conditioning, for maybe a total of ten days or a few more out of the year (and only for a few hours each day), but if it gets too hot, we can always go into the basement where it is 10 degrees Celsius cooler on a hot day, but the humidity gets to be fairly high there.

    Anyway a 150Wh saved times 24 times 365, at the most (it’s closer to 12 hours a day), is only a very small portion of our total energy consumption during the year, at worst about 1,300kWh a year. Only a fraction of that can be saved, and most of that would be offset by increased heating costs. All of that would be wiped out many times over on account of baking putting a roast in the oven, cooking and making coffee.

    I am not worried about what Microsoft does. I worry about who made my PC and, most importantly, the display screen. The consumption figures I see tell me that I don’t need to worry, that all of the energy my PC wastes is turned into heat, and that that heat generated keeps my heating bill down. It’s not worth it to bother figuring out the price of cash-flow differences. It would just be a model or an estimate anyway, and I can’t set up an experiment between two identical houses, having identical insulation factors and usage patterns, using different approaches to running a PC. I have a feeling that even if I could, the net differences in costs saved or paid would most probably be much smaller than the confidence interval for the estimate of the difference.

  46. Dr A Burns @ April 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Your 100% efficient “thermal system” is also a somewhat less efficient carbon monoxide (CO) generator, which has a nearly 100% likelihood of killing any occupants of the room in a relatively short period of time.

    This experiment has been reproduced numerous times during winter power failures, when charcoal grills have been used as space heaters. Similar results can be reproduced by using gas range ovens as space heaters, though the time frame required is longer.

    There are unvented space heaters available in the market which can also be used to reproduce these results. Even natural gas and propane unvented space heaters and fireplaces equipped with oxygen depletion sensors (ODS) can be effective, if the combustion system is not properly adjusted. However, in that case, the ODS will usually turn the system off before the bodies decay too badly.

  47. Note the rejected energy paths in the chart. There are two huge loss points. One is at the point of generation for electricity and the other is at the point of consumption for transporation.

    The former is mostly losses in electrical transmission lines. The latter is inefficiency of internal combustion engines. Almost 50% of our energy consumption is wasted in these two loss leaders.

    There’s not much that can be done to improve long distance electrical transmission efficiency barring the discovery of a cheap room temperature superconductor which isn’t likely. What would help a lot is decentralization of generation. Every kilowatt/hour of electricity that can be generated at the point of consumption is worth two kwh from a centralized source. In this is the appeal of solar photovoltaics with a grid tie. Further improvement of cost/performance of PV panels, mass production, and standardization could go a long way towards reducing the amount of electricity consumed from fossil fuel fired power plants. Every watt generated locally would reduce the demand on centralized sources by two watts. This is where the U.S. could be leading the way with government funded R&D, low interest loans, national standards, and laws requiring electric companies to allow customers to install standardized grid ties with fair prices paid for excess electricity fed back onto the grid.

    In the transportation sector the cash for clunkers program was a good idea in principle but it was too loosely restricted to do a lot of good in that you didn’t have to take a huge step up in fuel economy (18mpg-24mpg) to get the rebate. That’s because the purpose of the program was also to stimulate sagging new auto sales after the financial crisis had reached main street.

    The qualifiers, in my opinion, should have been any 50% improvement in fuel economy and included the purchase of used vehicles not just new ones. Also not requiring the destruction of the trade-in so long as the trade-in got 18 mpg or better. That way, for example, I could have traded in my 28mpg Honda Accord for a used 42mpg Jetta TDI and someone with a 16mpg clunker could have traded in for my Accord. Not everyone can afford a new vehicle but with a small subsidy and/or zero-interest government backed loans there could be a whole lot more efficiency brought to the transporation sector for very little cost to the taxpayers. I would also support, in general, the U.S. government stepping in to make these high efficiency TDI diesels much more accessible. Some sort of engine swap program where the fuel efficiency improvement is 50% might be feasible which could potentially reduce the number of scrapped vehicles whose only sin is an inefficient motor.

  48. Ed Reid says:
    April 11, 2011 at 5:17 am

    Dr A Burns @ April 10, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Your 100% efficient “thermal system” is also a somewhat less efficient carbon monoxide (CO) generator, which has a nearly 100% likelihood of killing any occupants of the room in a relatively short period of time.

    Similar results can be reproduced by using gas range ovens as space heaters, though the time frame required is longer.

    Ventless gas heaters (natural gas or propane) are common, inexpensive, safe, and 100% efficient. The primary safety device is an oxygen sensor which cuts off the fuel supply if O2 level is insufficient for complete combustion. A fuel cutoff in the event of a flame-out condition is also required. It’s also a good idea to have secondary CO and gas (natural or propane as appropriate) alarms which are required by law in new recreational vehicles equipped with gas appliances.

    Natural gas and propane produce nothing but water vapor and carbon dioxide as combustion products provided there is sufficient oxygen. It’s difficult but not impossible to get complete combustion out of solid fuels but they also produce other nasty gases, aerosols, and particulates that you don’t want to be breathing for long so ventless solid fuel appliances are not viable options.

    That said I have a two year-old high efficiency natural gas furnace in my upstate NY home. It brings in fresh air from outside the house in one pipe and vents the exhaust outdoors out of a second pipe. The efficiency is quite impressive. About twice as good as the 50 year-old natural gas furnace it replaced. I’m not sure how much better it would be if it were ventless as the exhaust gas barely feels warm at all and there’s not an excessive stream of it either. I have an RV with a propane furnace in it and the exhaust from that thing is hot enough to burn you. I presume the big difference is that space is critical in the RV so there isn’t much room for a large efficient combustion chamber or waste heat recovery in the exhaust pipe. The intake and exhaust pipes can’t be more than 12 inches long and the whole furnace occupies about 2 cubic feet.

  49. To the person in Canada with the cool-in-the-summer but high humidity basement…

    I hear ya. The basement in my upstate NY home is the same way. The ground temperature there is 52F year-round not far below the frost line. A small dehumidifier will fix you right up and as an added bonus it produces distilled water which is handy for a lot of things like topping off your radiator or watering house plants.

    In a rural south-central Texas home where I have enough land to experiment I wanted a high efficiency workshop with no interior walls and 12-foot ceilings and didn’t want to pay much for it. The year-round ground temperature in this location is 72F which is perfect. I cut a 36’w X 24’d section out of a hillside. I poured concrete to form the floor and three 12′ high walls, then used the tailings from the cut as backfill to bring the grade up even with the tops of the walls. That left a roof and one wall to build. The fourth wall faces north so I just framed that with 4×4’s and insulated with R-13 craft paper. Outside I just put up some inexpensive 3/8″ particle board siding which from experience I know holds up here very well without needing paint if the neutral gray color is acceptable to you. Inside I just covered it with 7/16″ OSB and painted it white. For the roof I used 24′ 2×10 pine timbers with 2′ spacing. One end of each timber is bolted to the top of the 4×4 wall timbers and the other end rests on top of the opposite concrete wall held in place by hurricane ties on that end. It’s a “flat” roof with a slope of 1:14. I covered the roof on top with two layers of 7/16″ OSB with the edges overlapped by 4 feet. Then tar paper on top of that then rool roofing (mineral/white) over the top of that. Roof insulation on the underside is R-30 then I just did the interior ceiling with 7/16″ OSB and painted it a light blue. I used a darker shade of blue concrete floor paint and painted the three concrete walls white with a masonry wall paint (Killz-2). For air-conditioning I put in two Sears 5000btu window air conditioners ($125 ea.) at opposite corners of the front wall and for heating I used two 8000 btu electric floor standing heaters from Wal-mart ($45 ea.) positioned right under the air conditioners. Both heaters and air conditioners have remote controls. I topped it off with a 20 pint/day Sears dehumidifier ($300).

    About half the year I don’t need either air-conditioners or heaters running at all and the temperature stays pretty close to 72F with only less than 2F difference between day and night. The heaters come on, usually only briefly, when the average outdoor air temperature drops much below 72F. In the summer the air conditioners come on for a little while each day if the average outdoor temperature is much above 72F. They come on just enough to keep the relative humidity down near 50% so the dehumdifier seldom needs to do anything. In the cooler months the dehumidifier has some work to do when outdoor humidity is high but in that case the waste heat from the dehumidifier means the heaters have less work to do. I use high efficiency flourescent lighting of course but with a mostly white interior and no interior walls a single 15w compact flourescent lights the whole place enough to see your way around at night and in over the main workbench I use a standard 80W 4′ flourescent.

    The whole shebang uses less than $100/yr in electricity for combined heating, cooling, and lighting. Total construction cost for 800’sq of high efficiency climate controlled comfort and workshop-quality interior was just $15/sq ft. With the exception of the concrete and the 24′ roof timbers all the materials were off-the-shelf from my local Home Depot and Sears stores. Labor was probably 500 hours but it was almost all just me building it except for cutting the hillside and pouring the slab & walls. Unskilled construction labor here runs about $10/hr if you don’t ask questions about why most of the crew don’t speak English so even if I didn’t supply any of the labor it still would have come in at $20/sq’. I’m really pleased with the result and building it was a labor of love which also provided a lot of good outdoor exercise that I don’t get designing computers and software or blogging or reading.

  50. By the way, on my last missive I mentioned having a secondary alarm for natural gas and/or propane if you’re using ventless indoor gas heater. The same alarm will work for either natural gas or propane. I have a propane alarm in an RV. They’re mounted down near the floor. It went off exactly one time and it went off because it detected methane, not propane. One of my german shepherds was sleeping on the floor with her butt up against the alarm. She farted and it set the alarm off. Boy did I laugh my ass off. My dog was not at all amused though…

  51. Dave Springer,

    I hope the several things you know that just aren’t so don’t get you and/or a member of your family killed one day.

    The energy rejected in the electric power generation/transmission/distribution system is primarily combustion and heat transfer inefficiency in the generation process. Transmission losses are on the order of 1%. Distribution losses are on the order of 8%, though they may double on peak.

    Natural gas and propane produce primarily CO2 and H2O as combustion products. However, they also produce various aldehydes, as well as carbon monoxide. Improper assembly or maintenance of unvented heaters can result in production of up to 4,500 ppm CO in the flue gas. (That is not an estimate. I have measured that result in the laboratory.) CO emissions at that rate would kill the occupants of a room long before the ODS would operate to shut the burner off.

    Your condensing natural gas furnace has an efficiency of ~94-96%. Your RV furnace must have a minimum efficiency of 80%, though it would be less efficient on a seasonal basis. It probably has an exhaust gas temperature of ~350F.

    If you wish, you may click through to my website to confirm my credentials for providing the information above.

  52. Hi, this is only the second ‘Octopus Diagram’ I have come across – the first is the one I refer to in my musings at http://altenergymag.com/emagazine.php?art_id=1673
    – with credits [and reference] to Huber & Mills’ book. H&M also explain that the ‘waste’ is nothing more than ‘entropy’ when defined as ‘energy not available to do work’ as in any thermodynamic process.
    All the ‘uncertainties’ = estimates will, of course, need refining. I can’t recommend the H&M book highly enough to understand what goes on between energy sources and what comes out as useful at the ‘socket outlet’ end – and why.

  53. Oh Dave, what a lot of rubbish you talk. As Ed pointed out, nearly all the electricity loss is in combustion. With respect to transmission losses there are three things that can be done to reduce greatly the already small losses: 1. DC transmission, 2. convert 3 phase AC to 6 phase AC, increase frequency from 60 Hz to 300 Hz.

    Your comments about nuclear economics are all rubbish. Cost of power is determined primarily by location and the distance to fuel sources. Where these are long, nuclear is invariably cheaper than any fossil alternatives.

    And talking about emissions, all combustion produces NOx. The higher the combustion temperature, the more NOx it produces, meaning that nat gas produces lots for the energy extracted.

  54. Colin says:
    April 12, 2011 at 10:38 am (Edit)

    With respect to transmission losses there are three things that can be done to reduce greatly the already small losses: 1. DC transmission, 2. convert 3 phase AC to 6 phase AC, increase frequency from 60 Hz to 300 Hz.

    So DC is good, 300 Hz is good, 60 Hz is bad? Please explain why 300 Hz is good.

  55. Ed Reid says:
    April 11, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Dave Springer,

    I hope the several things you know that just aren’t so don’t get you and/or a member of your family killed one day.

    The energy rejected in the electric power generation/transmission/distribution system is primarily combustion and heat transfer inefficiency in the generation process. Transmission losses are on the order of 1%. Distribution losses are on the order of 8%, though they may double on peak.

    Natural gas and propane produce primarily CO2 and H2O as combustion products. However, they also produce various aldehydes, as well as carbon monoxide. Improper assembly or maintenance of unvented heaters can result in production of up to 4,500 ppm CO in the flue gas. (That is not an estimate. I have measured that result in the laboratory.) CO emissions at that rate would kill the occupants of a room long before the ODS would operate to shut the burner off.

    Your condensing natural gas furnace has an efficiency of ~94-96%. Your RV furnace must have a minimum efficiency of 80%, though it would be less efficient on a seasonal basis. It probably has an exhaust gas temperature of ~350F.

    If you wish, you may click through to my website to confirm my credentials for providing the information above.

    Transmission and distribution losses together in the US account for 6.6%. There’s more loss on top of that in the customer’s wiring before it reaches whatever device is actually consuming the electricity. I don’t have a figure for that on average but it can be substantial. In my case some of my more power thirsty appliances can drop my line voltage by ~10% from 126vac at the pole to 110vac at the appliance. The difference comes out as heat in the copper wiring of course. I start to worry about premature electric motor failures below 110vac as the motors themselves become less efficient and run hot in lower voltage situations.

    Speaking of efficiency of electric motors we have to consider the efficiency of the electrical devices being powered. A typical AC induction motor of less than 1 horsepower (which covers vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, clothes washers, air conditioner compressors, blower fans, and the like operating at full rated load is somewhere south of 60% efficient. Operating at anything less than full rated load the efficiency falls off further. At 10% of rated load you’re looking at about 20% efficiency.

    Light bulbs are even worse (unless you want the waste heat). Even CFLs give off more heat than light and that’s for a bare bulb so you can subtract even more (10 – 20%) from its efficiency if it has some kind of diffusion filter like a lampshade or grating or whatever else might be used to diffuse the bare bulb glare.

    On the natural gas CO emissions thanks for the tip. My mother has been using a gas range (no vent) in her small kitchen for 60 years. For 40 of those years there was an unvented gas refrigerator in the same room. I’m sure she’ll appreciate knowing it might kill her real soon now and she should invest in a hood with a vent fan and keep it running whenever the stove is being used.

    I see you ignored my admonition that one should have a CO alarm if you’re going to use a ventless gas heater anywhere where there isn’t a reasonable amount of indoor/outdoor air exchange happening.

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