The United States uses a lot of energy—nearly a million dollars worth each minute, 24 hours a day, every day of the year. With less than five percent of the world’s population, we consume about one fourth of the world’s energy resources. We are not alone. People in Asia and Europe also use a large amount of energy.
The average American consumes six times more energy than the world average. Every time we fill up our cars or open our energy bills, we notice the cost of that energy.
Efficiency & Conservation
Energy is more than numbers on a utility bill; it is the foundation of everything we do. All of us use energy every day—for transportation, cooking, heating and cooling rooms, manufacturing, lighting, and entertainment. We rely on energy to make our lives comfortable, productive and enjoyable. To maintain our quality of life, we must use our energy resources wisely.
The choices we make about how we use energy—turning machines off when we’re not using them or choosing to buy energy efficient appliances—impact our environment and our lives. There are many things we can do to use less energy and use it more wisely. These things involve energy conservation and energy efficiency. Many people think these terms mean the same thing, but they are different.
Energy conservation is any behavior that results in the use of less energy. Energy efficiency is the use of technology that requires less energy to perform the same function. A compact fluorescent light bulb that uses less energy than an incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light is an example of energy efficiency. The decision to replace an incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent is an example of energy conservation.
The U.S. Department of Energy divides the way we use energy into four categories or sectors—residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation. As individuals, our energy choices and actions can result in reductions in the amount of energy used in all three sectors of the economy.
Households use about one-fifth of the total energy consumed in the United States each year. The typical U.S. family spends almost $1,500 a year on utility bills. About 60 percent is in the form of electricity; the remainder comes mostly from natural gas and oil.
Much of this energy is not put to use. Heat pours out of homes through drafty doors and windows, and through ceilings and walls that aren’t insulated. Some appliances use energy 24 hours a day, even when they are turned off.
Energy-efficient improvements can make a home more comfortable and save money. Many utility companies provide energy audits to identify areas where homes are wasting energy. These audits may be free or low cost.
Note: Due to rounding, percentages may not add to exactly 100 percent.
Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling systems use more energy than any other systems in our homes. Typically, 42 percent of an average family’s energy bills is spent to keep homes at a comfortable temperature.
You can save energy and money by installing insulation, maintaining and upgrading the equipment, and practicing energy-efficient behaviors. A two-degree adjustment to your thermostat setting (lower in winter, higher in summer) can lower heating bills by four percent and prevent 500 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere each year. Programmable thermostats can automatically control temperature for time of day and season.
Insulation and Weatherization
You can reduce heating and cooling needs by investing in insulation and weatherization products. Warm air leaking into your home in summer and out of your home in winter can waste a lot of energy. Insulation wraps your house in a nice warm blanket, but air can still leak in or out through small cracks. Often the effect of small leaks is the same as keeping a door wide open. One of the easiest money-saving measures you can do is caulk, seal, and weather-strip all the cracks to the outside. You can save 10 percent or more on your energy bill by stopping the air leaks in your home.
Doors and Windows
About one-third of a typical home’s heat loss occurs through the doors and windows. Energy-efficient doors are insulated and seal tightly to prevent air from leaking through or around them. If your doors are in good shape and you don’t want to replace them, make sure they seal tightly and have door sweeps at the bottom to prevent air leaks. Installing insulated storm doors provides an additional barrier to leaking air.
Most homes have many more windows than doors. Replacing older windows with new energy-efficient ones can reduce air leaks and utility bills. The best windows shut tightly and are constructed of two or more pieces of glass separated by a gas that does not conduct heat well.
If you cannot replace older windows, there are several things you can do to make them more energy efficient. First, caulk any cracks around the windows and make sure they seal tightly. Add storm windows or sheets of clear plastic to the outside to create additional air barriers. You can also hang insulated drapes on the inside—during the winter, open them on sunny days and close them at night. During the summer, close them during the day to keep out the sun.
Windows, doors, and skylights are part of the government-backed EnergyStar® program that certifies energy-efficient products. To meet EnergyStar® requirements, windows, door and skylights must meet requirements tailored for the country’s three broad climate regions.
Although it isn’t possible to control the weather, landscaping can reduce its impact on home energy use. By placing trees, shrubs, and other landscape structures to block the wind and provide shade, people can reduce the energy needed to keep their homes comfortable during heating and cooling seasons.
Electricity & Appliances
Appliances account for about 20 percent of a typical household’s energy use, with refrigerators, clothes washers and dryers at the top of the list. When shopping for new appliances, you should think of two price tags. The first one is the purchase price. The second price tag is the cost of operating the appliance during its lifetime. You’ll be paying that second price tag on your utility bill every month for the next 10 to 20 years, depending on the appliance. Many energy efficient appliances cost more to buy, but save money in lower energy costs. Over the life of an appliance, an energy-efficient model is always a better deal.
When you shop for a new appliance, look for the EnergyStar® label—your assurance that the product saves energy. EnergyStar® appliances have been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy as the most energy-efficient products in their classes. If the average American were to equip his/her home only with products that have the EnergyStar® label, he/she would cut his/her energy bills, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, by about 30 percent.
Another way to compare appliances is by using Energy Guide labels. The government requires appliances to display yellow and black Energy Guide labels. These labels do not tell you which appliance is the most efficient, but they will tell you the annual energy usage and average operating cost of each appliance so you can compare them.
As a nation, we spend about one-quarter of our electricity on lighting, at a cost of more than $37 billion annually. Much of this energy is wasted using inefficient incandescent light bulbs. Only 10 percent of the energy used by an incandescent bulb produces light; the rest is given off as heat.
If you replace 25 percent of your light bulbs with fluorescence, you can save about 50 percent on your lighting bill. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) provide the same amount of light and no longer flicker or buzz. CFLs cost more to buy, but they save money in the long run because they use only one-quarter the energy of incandescent bulbs and last 8-12 times longer. Each CFL you install can save you $30 to $60 over the bulb’s life.
Water heating is the third largest energy expense in your home. It typically accounts for about 14 percent of your utility bill. Heated water is used for showers, baths, laundry, dish-washing and general cleaning. There are four ways to cut your water heating bills—use less hot water, turn down the thermostat on your water heater, insulate your water heater and pipes, and buy a new, more efficient water heater.
Other ways to conserve hot water include taking showers instead of baths, taking shorter showers, fixing leaks in faucets and pipes, and using the lowest temperature wash and rinse settings on clothes washers.
Americans make up less than five percent of the world’s population, yet own one third of its automobiles. The transportation sector of the U.S. economy accounts for over one fourth of its energy consumption. America is a country on the move.
The average American uses 500 gallons of gasoline every year. The average vehicle is driven more than 12,000 miles per year today. That number is expected to increase about 40 percent during the next 20 years if Americans don’t change their driving habits by using public transportation, carpooling, walking or bicycling. You can achieve 10 percent fuel savings by improving your driving habits and keeping your car properly maintained.
The average fuel economy of new cars and light trucks increased significantly from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, it declined from a high of about 26 miles per gallon (mpg) in 1988 to less than 24.5 mpg in 1999 due to larger vehicles, more horsepower, and increased sales of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and trucks. Today, 50 percent of the new passenger vehicles sold are SUVs and light trucks that do not have to meet the higher fuel economy standards of cars.
The U.S. imports almost two-thirds of the oil we use. Over the next 20 years, our dependence on foreign oil could be almost completely eliminated if the average fuel economy increases to 45 mpg instead of 25 mpg.
When buying a vehicle, you can save a lot by choosing a fuel-efficient model. All new cars must display a mileage performance label, or Fuel Economy Label, that lists the estimated miles per gallon for both city and highway driving. Compare the fuel economy of the vehicles you are considering and make it a priority. Over the 13-year life of the vehicle, you can save thousands of dollars and reduce emissions significantly.
Manufacturing the goods we use every day consumes an enormous amount of energy. The industrial sector of the U.S. economy consumes one-third of the energy used in the U.S.
In the industrial sector, the market drives energy efficiency and conservation measures. Manufacturers know that they must keep their costs low to compete in the global economy. Since energy is one of the biggest costs in many industries, manufacturers must use energy efficient technologies and conservation measures to be successful. Their demand for energy efficient equipment drives much of the research and development of new technologies.
Individual consumers can, however, have an effect on industrial energy use through the product choices we make and what we do with packaging and products we no longer use.
A Consumer Society
Every American throws away about 1,000 pounds of trash a year. The most effective way for consumers to help reduce the amount of energy consumed by industry is to decrease the number of unnecessary products produced and to reuse items wherever possible. Purchasing only those items that are necessary, and reusing and recycling products can reduce energy use in the industrial sector.
The 3 Rs of an energy-wise consumer are easy to put into practice. Reducing waste saves money, energy and natural resources, and helps protect the environment.
Buy only what you need. Purchasing fewer goods means less to throw away. It also results in fewer goods being produced and less energy being used in the manufacturing process. Buying goods with less packaging also reduces the amount of waste generated and the amount of energy used.
Buy products that can be used repeatedly. If you buy things that can be reused rather than disposable items that are used once and thrown away, you will save natural resources. You’ll also save the energy used to make them, and reduce the amount of landfill space needed to contain the waste.
Make it a priority to recycle all materials that you can. Using recycled material almost always consumes less energy than using new materials. Recycling reduces energy needs for mining, refining, and many other manufacturing processes.
Recycling a pound of steel saves enough energy to light a 60-watt light bulb for 26 hours. Recycling a ton of glass saves the equivalent of nine gallons of fuel oil. Recycling aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy required to produce aluminum from bauxite. Recycling paper cuts energy usage in half.
Efficiency and conservation are key components of energy sustainability––the concept that every generation should meet its energy needs without compromising the energy needs of future generations. Energy sustainability focuses on long-term energy strategies and policies that ensure adequate energy to meet today’s needs, as well as tomorrow’s.
Sustainability also includes investing in research and development of advanced technologies for producing conventional energy sources, promoting the use of alternative energy sources, and encouraging sound environmental policies.
Please check out our Links
to find helpful energy saving resources and incentives.