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U.S. Uses 11 Times More Energy Than the UK (with Only 5 Times More People)

Originally published on Outlier (Opower’s blog) by Barry Fischer

Last week, we called attention to America’s massive energy inefficiency problem. The amount of energy wasted by the U.S. economy in 2012, we noted, could power the United Kingdom for 7 years.

UK Energy Flow Chart for 2012

But of course the United Kingdom is more than just a reference point. It’s an interesting energy case study itself.

The UK is Europe’s largest oil producer, the country’s renewable electricity use has quadrupled since 2000, and last year the UK was crowned the world’s most energy-efficient major economy. Not to mention its capital city is home to Opower’s European headquarters.

us energy efficiency uk
U.S. energy efficiency vs. the UK

Given our company’s inclination to make insightful usage comparisons, we’d love to be able to present a side-by-side comparison of total energy waste in the U.S. and UK. Unfortunately, each country takes a distinct methodological approach to evaluating economy-wide efficiency  – making it unfeasible to do a clean apples-to-apples comparison (see Author’s Note).

But, based on our knowledge of the energy economy in the U.S. and UK we can still draw some meaningful conclusions:

  • In 2012, the U.S.’s primary energy demand was 11 times bigger than the UK’s
  • The efficiency of electric power generation and transmission is roughly 35% in both countries
  • The average American household uses 2.7 times more electricity and 1.3 times more natural gas than a British household
  • Transportation dominated petroleum use in both countries
  • The countries’ electricity generation portfolios in 2012 were uncannily similar (Coal ~40%, Gas ~30%, Nuclear ~20%, Renewables ~10%).

The first point above, regarding the sizable divergence in per-capita energy use between the U.S. (313.9 million people) and the UK (63.2 million people), may be the juiciest tidbit of all.

Why does the average American consume twice as much energy as the average Brit?

The answer is multifaceted and complex, but we can begin to identify a few key drivers.

First, consider transportation — the largest end-user in both countries. The average fuel economy of UK cars is currently 65% better than U.S. cars. Americans also drive almost twice as many miles per year than Brits. More gasoline per mile, combined with lots of miles, is the perfect recipe for a bloated energy flowchart.

Second, compare a typical home near London, England with one in New London, Connecticut. You’ll see some clear energy-related differences: the UK home will neither have an air-conditioner nor a swimming pool (both are exceedingly rare there, largely due to a milder climate); they’re also far more likely to be hang-drying their laundry. These kinds of factors add up.

Third, UK energy efficiency policies have become increasingly ambitious. Last November, the UK Government unveiled a national EE Strategy, that included a £39 million investment in research on how to empower consumers and businesses to adopt more energy-efficient behaviour over time. And starting soon, the UK will join other European countries in a regional effort to reduce energy use by 20% by 2020.

While the U.S. has also made strides in boosting efficiency in recent years, especially at the state level and through innovative utility programs, the UK’s concerted nationwide initiatives to cut demand have positioned the country as a leader…as evidenced by its #1 ranking in ACEEE’s 2012 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard. And these efforts are borne out by the 2012 data: as shown below, the UK’s weather-adjusted primary demand inched downward for its 7th straight year.

The UK’s primary energy consumption (weather-adjusted) has declined for seven straight years (Source: UK Digest of Energy Statistics, 2013)

For its part, the U.S. has also seen a general downward trend in total and per-capita energy use in recent years, but it hasn’t trickled down quite as consistently as in the UK.

There are many interesting insights to be drawn from recent energy trends in the States and the Kingdom — including how the Super Bowl and the birth of little Prince George exerted a surprisingly similar effect on demand. To dive deeper into the data from both sides of the pond, check out the 2013 Digest of UK Statistics and the most recent Flowchart Analysis from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the U.S.

Author’s note: The UK’s Energy Flow analysis is constructed on a “primary fuel input basis,” which differs slightly from the “useful energy basis” adopted by the U.S. version. Interested readers can read more details about the UK’s flowchart calculations here and U.S. calculations here.

Special thanks to Nate Kaufman and Ashley Sudney.

Follow @OpowerOutlier on Twitter

This article, U.S. Uses 11 Times More Enerrgy Than UK (with Only 5 Times More People), is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.


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Planetary Energy Graphic

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U.S. Energy Subsidies

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U.S. Jobs by Energy Type

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Energy Water Useage

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U.S. Energy Rates by State

Click here to enlarge the image and see the data for each state in the U.S.A.

Our energy comes from many sources, including coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewables.

As nonrenewable sources such as coal diminish due to market forces and consumer preference, the need for renewable energy sources grows.

Some U.S. states satisfy their growing renewable energy needs with wind, solar and hydropower.

Wind: Texas has the capacity to generate 18,500 megawatts hours of electricity through wind, and expects to add another 5,000 megawatts of wind generation capacity from facilities under construction.

Solar: California’s solar farms and small-scale solar power systems have 14,000 megawatts of solar power generating capacity.

Hydroelectric: Washington state hydroelectric power produces two-thirds of its net electricity.

Information courtesy of ChooseEnergy.com

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C40 Cities Initiative

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A Living Wage

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