The environmental impact of wasted electricity
Electricity is a basic necessity in today’s society. Without it, most businesses would be closed by sundown – essentially putting a halt on life itself. Imagine for a moment, living in a world where the sunset signifies the end of your entire day – that would be a massive change for anyone awake after as early as 5pm in the winter or 8pm in the summer.
We understand electricity is necessary, but the way its generated impacts our environment. Coal, for example, is the second largest fossil fuel used in the US to generate electricity. The issue isn’t the type of energy coal generates, but how it’s being generated.
Coal is a flammable sedimentary rock that is mostly made up of organic carbon. So when it is crushed into a fine powder and then heated in order to produce electricity, it releases carbon emissions. The over reliance on fossil fuels creates a greenhouse effect.
The greenhouse effect is the exchange of incoming and outgoing radiation that warms the Earth. According to Live Science, “The greenhouse effect, combined with increasing levels of greenhouse gases and the resulting global warming, is expected to have profound implications, according to most climate scientists.
In order to understand the full consequences excessive electricity usage has on our environment, we first need to get a grasp of the US electricity system.
A quick breakdown of the US electricity market
When looking at the energy landscape, fossil fuels still dominate the market, with a 62.7% share of the US electricity generation market, per the US Environmental Information Administration (EIA). Lately, however, natural gas has taken over as the dominant fossil fuel – but not by much. In 2017, natural gas accounted for 31.7%, and coal accounted for 30.1%.
Let’s look at those numbers for a moment. Thirty percent of the electricity generated in the US came from coal – the ultimate carbon-emitting fossil fuel. The other 31% came from natural gas, which emits methane – which isn’t much better. Methane emissions are much stronger than carbon emissions, even though their lifespans are much shorter. According to Scientific American, “While CO2 persists in the atmosphere for centuries, or even millennia, methane warms the planet on steroids for a decade or two before decaying to CO2.”
Think about that for a second – methane warms the planet on steroids. Keep that thought on your mind; we’ll get right back to it.
How energy inefficiencies are hurting the US
The inefficient use of electricity in the US is profound. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) came out with a survey on the world energy rankings. Do you know where the US placed?
Tenth place, two spots behind its eighth place finish in 2016.
When we take a deeper look into the energy consumption in the US, you’ll be shocked at just how inefficient we are. According to a diagram from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) at the Department of Energy, in 2017, 66.7% of energy generated in the US was rejected energy. This means that two-thirds of the energy we generated ended up wasted.
Remember earlier when we spoke about methane and we told you to hang on to that thought? Wasted energy still means that it was produced. Therefore, we burned a ton of fossil fuels for no reason. That means there were both carbon and methane emissions, for electricity that was never even used.
As a nation, we are not the most efficient with our appliances, which has a cumulatively negative effect.
Let’s take lights for example. How often have you left the lights on while heading out for the night? I’m sure plenty of times. We’ve all been guilty of leaving the lights on. The problem is that since it is such a common habit, it easily adds up, contributing to the 66.7% of wasted energy.
How we can stop wasting electricity on a micro scale
As homeowners, renters, or business owners, it is our job to moderate the usage of our appliances. What we mean by that is: use your appliances only when you need to. If your home is already feeling cool inside as temperatures begin to drop, crack open your windows and turn off your AC.
The electricity that you can save from utilizing outdoor climate might seem small, but when large groups of people join you, the change will create a tremendous impact.
One way to stop wasting energy is to start relying on renewable resources. Solar, wind, and hydro represent different alternatives that offer zero carbon and methane emissions. These renewable sources are the key to our future. Coal reserves are declining and will eventually run out. Natural gas will also follow suit, even though for now, there’s still plenty left. Solar and wind, however, have no expiration date.
The sun isn’t going anywhere and neither is the wind. As a result, research into and development of renewable energy needs to continue moving forward. At the beginning of this article, we talked about how it would be insane to live in a world where the entire day ends at sunset. With the finite amount of coal and natural gas, you can now see how that day can actually happen. As we continue to waste electricity, we continue to emit more carbon and methane into our atmosphere. With fossil fuel gases trapped in our atmosphere, we end up with scorching summers and brutal winters. Our globe continues to warm, melting our polar ice caps, and threatening coastal cities that will begin to be covered by rising sea levels. Once this happens, most of the US will become uninhabitable.
Wasting electricity creates the ultimate domino effect that can one day leave us with a country with insufficient room for all of its citizens. So next time you leave your home and you see the lights on, do us all a favor and turn them off – the environment will thank you.