The United States emits the same amount of greenhouse gases as 69 other countries – 300 million people emitting the same as 1.5 billion. Since the U.S. uses about 20% of the world’s total energy consumption, this doesn’t come as a big surprise. But, it brings to light a big problem on the horizon. As developing countries continue to increase their energy use – electrifying their homes and businesses, travelling more in newly purchased cars, and producing more goods – is it possible for them to increase their standard of living without a dramatic increase in energy consumption?
What does this mean for the world’s energy use?
Today, the average person in the United States uses about 330 million BTUs (british thermal units) of energy each year. The world’s average is just 75 million. If the world increased its energy use to the current US level, the world’s total annual energy use would more than quadruple – from its current 500 to more than 2,200 Quadrillion BTUs (this assumes that the world’s population does not increase.
The same story goes for the United States versus other countries on its environmental impacts from energy use. The United States uses more energy per capita and it also emits more carbon dioxide than any other country (per capita – China emits more greenhouse gases in total, but they have a much larger population). It is reasonable to say that an increase in energy use would in an increase in greenhouse emissions from these countries.
To get an idea of the scale, I took a look at a new map published on the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) website. This map shows what the US would look like if you redrew the state boundaries based on the greenhouse gas emissions of other countries. According to the NRDC, you could fit the emissions 16 countries + the entire African continent (which, if my counting skills are on-par today, includes 53 countries) into the United State’s footprint.
These countries includes the Philipines, Sweden, France, Morocco, Israel, Thailand, Argentina, India (filling Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi), Brazil, Africa (with its 53 countries), the United Kingdom, Germany, Jordan, Ireland, Malaysia, Norway, and Ecuador.
All told – this map shows that the 300 million people in the United States emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as the 1.5 billion people living in these 69 countries.
As the world continues to electrify its homes, put new cars on the road, and produce more goods in industrial facilities I wonder how the world will deal with the increase in greenhouse gas emissions….
Thanks to The Daily Wogan for introducing me to this NRDC chart.
The economics of a solar power project can be tricky – especially when you don’t have access to the information you need. While it is pretty easy to generalize – “Arizona is sunny – Seattle, not so much” – trying to calculate how much electricity you’ll be able to generate from the panels on your rooftop can be frustrating. And this problem isn’t just felt at home – as cities and counties take a harder look at their parking lots and garages as potential generation stations, knowing how much sun they have to work with becomes critical.
Last week, the American Institute of Physics published a paper on a new way to calculate, compile and graphically show the amount of solar energy potential in a specific region (for example, county or city). The new methodology presented in this paper provides an easy way for you, or members of your city council, to determine the amount of energy that the sun beams down (called solar irradiance) in your area. You can even sort this information by time of day or year, to see how those panels are going to perform at 4pm in January versus 11am in July.
Developed by former graduate student David M. Wogan (of The Daily Wogan) and his advisors, Dr. Michael E. Webber and Dr. Alexandre K. da Silva at The University of Texas at Austin, the aim of this project was to make solar data more meaningful to people who wish to use this renewable resource. In their paper, they discuss how the methodology works (lots of data + computer program + pretty graphs) and apply it to Texas as a case study. Pretty cool.
If you would like to read the paper, you can access it for free here at The Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy.
[Image was found using Creative Commons, using the search term "sunshine."]
Yesterday, The Daily Wogan published a blog post about several new ambulances in the Austin EMS fleet that will use solar panels to power critical on-board equipment. These panels will allow EMTs to shut down their engines while they wait for their next call. This will not only save fuel ($$) but reduce their environmental impact. As reported by the Austin American Statesman on Sunday:
EMS officials said calculations show the switch will reduce gas consumption by several hundred gallons per unit, save gas money — up to $4,000 a year per ambulance — and decrease emissions.
“It is huge for us and the city as well,” Assistant EMS Director James Shamard said. “This is one of those times when we were able to maintain our medical equipment while at the same time do a little better for the environment.”
Officials said the agency is among the first nationally to begin using solar energy to help power ambulances. At a statewide EMS conference in Austin today, they will unveil one of two units that have the solar panels.
The Daily Wogan is making its official public debut today. This new blog focuses on sustainability, energy and policy – primarily in the context of local (Austin) issues. The blog’s author, David Wogan, is a member of my research group at The University of Texas at Austin. Check it out here!