LLNL’s Vitality Circulation Diagrams Present That The US Is not Shifting The Needle On Local weather Motion


The graphic that leads this text is without doubt one of the mostly used graphics in vitality and local weather discussions. It’s the Lawrence Livermore Nationwide Laboratory (LLNL) vitality flows diagram for the US, on this case the 2021 model. It has been publishing variants of them on this format since 2010. Once I converse to institutional buyers or college seminars or company technique teams, it’s uncommon that I don’t embrace and focus on this chart. The charts are in quads — quadrillions of British thermal items (BTUs) — which suggests LLNL has taken the time to attempt to get all of the thermodynamics proper.

It’s basic to my first assertion in my brief listing of local weather actions that may work, which is electrify all the things. I think about electrifying all vitality companies to trump all different effectivity packages, and ceaselessly get into discussions with individuals who preserve arguing for constructing envelope insulation, for instance, when Jevons Paradox makes it clear fuel use will simply rebound as individuals maximize consolation at a worth level they’re high-quality with, and research make it clear that does occur, most not too long ago a UK examine of 55,000 buildings there which had been insulated over 13 years but had no persistent change in fuel utilization.

Parsing the diagram a bit, it begins on the left with the entire major vitality sources. Major vitality is unprocessed preliminary sources like wind vitality popping out of wind farms, photo voltaic vitality popping out of photo voltaic farms  or crude oil popping out of the bottom (and extra on that later).

You’ll word a bunch of major vitality flows into electrical energy era, nearly 38%. And also you’ll word that there’s a fats grey bar labeled with 23.7 quads popping out of electrical energy era and resulting in a field labeled rejected vitality. That instance applies to a bunch of the opposite center bins within the chart, so let’s clarify it.

Rejected vitality is wasted major vitality, or vitality which serves no helpful goal in our society or financial system. Nearly the entire rejected vitality is waste warmth from burning fossil fuels. A tiny fraction is transmission losses for electrical energy.

Vitality companies are vitality that truly delivers societal worth, whether or not maintaining the lights on, pushing automobiles down the street or maintaining our buildings snug. Total, the US, and therefore many of the developed world, throws away two-thirds of all major vitality. It’s simply up in smoke, gone, wasted.

The sample holds true for the remainder of the splits between rejected vitality and vitality companies on the chart. Transportation is very egregious as we waste 74% of fossil fuels pushing weight alongside roads, waterways, and into the air, with solely 26% of the vitality embodied in fossil fuels really delivering worth.

Electrifying all the things, that’s to say utilizing electrical energy straight wherever it’s potential to take action, is vastly extra environment friendly than alternate options. The ratio of rejected to helpful vitality in electrical energy is a lot better than that for transportation, so even utilizing fossil fuels to generate electrical energy after which utilizing the electrical energy for transportation wastes much less of the fossil fuels’ vitality potential.

This has been high-quality as a result of fossil fuels have been filth low cost and simply accessible for hundreds of years, and we didn’t know any higher about adverse externalities, or at the least may ignore them. That’s altering in fact, for a few causes. The primary is that essentially the most accessible and least expensive to extract fossil fuels have already been dug up. That’s why there’s a lot unconventional oil and fuel extraction occurring, with a lot greater vitality necessities for extraction and processing. We’re drilling deep offshore and within the deep Arctic on the lookout for extra sources, and people are costlier too. And, in fact, there’s the little drawback of local weather change, and the need of placing an extra worth on fossil fuels to permit us to wean ourselves off of them.

The US has been constructing wind and photo voltaic for the reason that Seventies. And it’s been shopping for extra electrical automobiles previously decade too. And placing in additional warmth pumps. So, the ratio of vitality flows to vitality companies will need to have modified since 2010, proper?

Vitality Providers vs Rejected Vitality within the USA by Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist, TFIE Technique Inc

Hmmm… Some issues have modified, for certain. First off, let’s speak about inconsistencies in methodology, as LLNL has modified the way in which that it counts issues, and it makes this retrospective from its revealed knowledge a bit more difficult.

First off, in 2010 when the primary model of this chart appeared, LLNL wasn’t fairly at quads, however utilizing trillions of BTUs, which I’ve accounted for within the charts. But it surely’s not like US vitality use plummeted from 2010 to 2011, so clearly the crew refined their accounting between years, which is a superb factor and which I’m in no way saying is a adverse. Equally, between 2014 and 2015 LLNL clearly made one other change in methodology, one which was clearly aligned with making your entire factor extra thermodynamically correct. In spite of everything, the fundamentals of burning fossil fuels are very effectively understood, and there was no method we had been getting greater than 50% of the vitality out of them.

Consequently, it’s most helpful to 2015 to 2021 to see if there’s an observable pattern. By the way, the overwhelming majority of electrical automobiles, warmth pumps, wind generators, and photo voltaic panels had been deployed in these seven years. One clear factor is that in these seven years, US vitality consumption was pretty flat regardless of roughly 11 million extra People — a bit over 3% — dwelling and consuming within the nation. 2020 was a dip for apparent causes in complete vitality consumption, however word that it was solely a dip of about 8% and it rebounded considerably in 2021. Provided that COVID-19 wasn’t over, clearly People had been discovering different methods to burn huge numbers of BTUs than commuting to work and driving to school ball video games. I’d assume 2022 could have confirmed to return to 2019 ranges, or maybe somewhat below, as People are doing extra do business from home and fewer enterprise flying nonetheless.

As a word on methodology, I believe however haven’t confirmed that the LLNL materials continues to be masking a significant supply of vitality waste, which is the roughly 11% (the perfect estimate I’ve seen) of vitality required to extract, course of, refine, and distribute fossil fuels. Electrical era will get a call-out for the processing waste of electrical energy, however the 2.1 or extra kWh of vitality required to fabricate and ship a gallon of gasoline, for instance, is subsumed in ‘vitality companies’, when it’s really simply extra of the wastefulness of fossil fuels. Equally, the huge quantities of vitality utilized in steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) within the oil sands, or the vitality required for fracking, or the vitality wasted shifting megatonnes of molecules round in order that we are able to burn all of them falls into ‘vitality companies’, when it’s really simply extra rejected vitality. If somebody is aware of higher, please do let me know, however I’d personally add a field for extraction, processing, and refining fossil fuels, and have all of that vitality go on to rejected vitality with out passing go.

Let’s have a look at the ratio of helpful vitality companies to major vitality sources, as that ought to give us a greater have a look at traits.

Energy Services vs Primary Energy Ratio

Vitality Providers vs Major Vitality Ratio by Michael Barnard, Chief Strategist, TFIE Technique Inc.

And right here’s the larger story. Ignoring methodological errors previous to 2015, we are able to see that in seven years of electrification and deployment of wind and photo voltaic, the US barely budged the needle, in reality declining barely to extra wasted vitality in 2016 and 2017 earlier than bettering once more in 2018 and onward. However even there, in 2021, there was a slight decline.

From a coverage perspective, the reply seems clear. Severe nationwide vitality strategists and policymakers ought to be utilizing this ratio, calculated for his or her nation, as a key metric in whether or not they’re succeeding in really shifting the local weather needle. It’s, in any case and at current, a transparent measure of how a lot vitality we’re losing as a result of we persist in burning fossil fuels as an alternative of electrifying all the things and shifting to low-carbon electrical era.

In fact, there have been deeply contrarian insurance policies on the high within the US from January 2017 to January 2021, and fixing these deep failures takes time. It’s potential that 2022 noticed the needle transfer extra, and it’s potential that Biden’s insurance policies will present extra motion on this metric within the coming years.

There’s one other chart, not by LLNL or me, however by Professor David Cebon of Cambridge. Just like the LLNL vitality flows chart, it’s a Sankey diagram exhibiting helpful vs wasted vitality graphically, on this case of hydrogen vs warmth pumps for residential heating.

Sankey diagram of hydrogen vs heat pumps for the UK by David Cebon

Sankey diagram of hydrogen vs warmth pumps for the UK by David Cebon, P. Eng, professor of mechanical engineering, Cambridge

I used this diagram most not too long ago when speaking on the Renpower Maghreb 2022 convention in Tunisia in December, to help the viewers to know that Europe wouldn’t be paying for hydrogen as a provider of vitality, and that they need to strategize appropriately. Because it reveals, simply the electrical energy alone could be six occasions the quantity to attain the identical vitality companies at properties. That’s six occasions as a lot wind and photo voltaic. That’s much more transmission and storage. That’s numerous hydrogen manufacturing, storage and distribution infrastructure.

Heating buildings with hydrogen could be probably 10 occasions as costly as simply utilizing the electrical energy straight with warmth pumps.

Electrify all the things very clearly doesn’t imply making hydrogen and artificial fuels from inexperienced electrical energy and utilizing the fuels. That’s much more wasteful than what we do with fossil fuels, which is already deeply wasteful and more and more costly.

And it is a opposite story to Biden’s higher insurance policies. As I revealed in late 2022, the latest poor US hydrogen technique — improper division, improper authors — is rather more in step with the Cebon heating Sankey diagram than the LLNL understanding of rejected vitality vs helpful vitality companies. That’s a threat for the US. If hydrogen for vitality is pushed closely by the federal government, this metric would go within the improper course as an alternative of the precise one.


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