January 22, 2010
Energy Usage In Homes And Cars

I happened to be reading some 2007 Congressional hearing on how to use social science techniques of persuasion to modify behavior with regards to energy usage. The introduction to the hearing outlines how much energy we use in homes and in cars.

In 2005, U.S. households consumed 21 quadrillion BTU (quad) of primary energy, accounting for 21 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. To put this in perspective, people in the United States consume 2.4 times as much energy at home as those in Western Europe, in large part because our homes are twice as large and not designed for energy efficiency, despite the availability of affordable technologies to make them so. Household vehicles account for an additional 14 quad or 14 percent of primary energy, resulting in an overall household total of more than one-third of annual U.S. energy consumption.

With homes and private cars using only about 35% of the energy used in the US I'm a little surprised that the total for those two uses isn't higher. In the US economy about 70% of GDP goes to consumption. So I expected a larger fraction of all energy usage would show up more clearly in the category of consumers. But the figures above tell us most of the energy we use is embodied in products and services we buy. We do not directly use most of the energy used to support us.

What I'd like to find: a breakdown of energy embodied in various categories of products we buy. How much energy goes into building a house in the first place? How much of the energy we use is to create and deliver the food we eat? If the price of oil or natural gas or electricity doubles which product costs will rise the most? Anyone have some good links that address these questions?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 January 22 06:13 PM  Energy Lifestyle

CyclemotorEngineer said at January 25, 2010 8:41 AM:

Hi Randall,

In answer to your question, "How much of the energy we use is to create and deliver the food we eat?" Please see the graphics from my Google Knol.

The US per capita average power devoted to providing food is 1348 Thermal Watts:

Out of 11,200 Thermal Watts per capita:

Kralizec said at January 25, 2010 11:18 PM:

God damn it, the reason the Americans' houses are larger than the Europeans is the same fvcking reason the Americans have bigger cars. When the Europeans finish dying out, it will finally become apparent even to the stupidest that they were not better than the Americans, after all, just fvcking childless.

Nick G said at January 26, 2010 9:06 AM:


In the US economy about 70% of GDP goes to consumption.

I'm think you may be comparing apples and oranges when you compare consumption vs investment and residential/personal transportation vs industrial/commercial. For instance, government accounts for close to 25% of the economy, and that's largely counted as consumption, even though it's not residential/personal transportation.

Melanie said at July 25, 2012 6:16 AM:

I'm surprised just as you are! Homes and private cars are only using about 35% of the energy used in the US? Could that number be a misprint? So how high would that percentage be if a lot of Americans decide to buy an electric car in the future?

Kelsey said at February 25, 2013 9:35 AM:

I'm doing a survey for my marketing research class, and the survey is based on the importance of environmental issues to an individual. I was wondering if it would be possible to send you a link of the survey for you to post on your blog and have both you and your followers fill it out. Please let me know if we can set this up. Thank you.

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