Red reflections

Our estimate of a typical affluent person’s consumption (figure 18.1) has
reached 195 kWh per day. It is indeed true that many people use this
much energy, and that many more aspire to such levels of consumption.
The average American consumes about 250 kWh per day. If we all raised
our standard of consumption to an average American level, the green pro-
duction stack would definitely be dwarfed by the red consumption stack.

What about the average European and the average Brit? Average Eu-
ropean consumption of “primary energy” (which means the energy con-
tained in raw fuels, plus wind and hydroelectricity) is about 125 kWh per
day per person
. The UK average is also 125 kWh per day per person.

These official averages do not include two energy flows. First, the “em-
bedded energy” in imported stuff (the energy expended in making the stuff)
is not included at all. We estimated in Chapter 15 that the embedded energy
in imported stuff is at least 40 kWh/d per person. Second, the official
estimates of “primary energy consumption” include only industrial energy
flows – things like fossil fuels and hydroelectricity – and don’t keep
track of the natural embedded energy in food: energy that was originally
harnessed by photosynthesis.

Another difference between the red stack we slapped together and the
national total is that in most of the consumption chapters so far we tended
to ignore the energy lost in converting energy from one form to another,
and in transporting energy around. For example, the “car” estimate in
Part I covered only the energy in the petrol, not the energy used at the
oil refinery that makes the petrol, nor the energy used in trundling the
oil and petrol from A to B. The national total accounts for all the energy,
before any conversion losses. Conversion losses in fact account for about
22% of total national energy consumption. Most of these conversion losses
happen at power stations. Losses in the electricity transmission network
chuck away 1% of total national energy consumption.

When building our red stack, we tried to imagine how much energy a
typical affluent person uses. Has this approach biased our perception of
the importance of different activities? Let’s look at some official numbers.
Figure 18.2 shows the breakdown of energy consumption by end use. The
top two categories are transport and heating (hot air and hot water). Those
two categories also dominated the red stack in Part I. Good.

Road transportPetroleum22.5
Water transportPetroleum1.0
All modesElectricity0.4
All energy used by transport31.6
Figure 18.2. Energy consumption, broken down by end use, according to the Department for Trade and Industry.
Table 18.3. 2006 breakdown of energy consumption by transport mode, in kWh/d per person.
Source: Dept. for Transport (2007).