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U.S. installed capacity and electricity generation by energy resource, 1949 to 2009

The U.S. electricity sector has seen tremendous growth in the past 60 years. From 1949 to 2009, U.S. electricity consumption increased by a factor of 13. To meet this rising demand, the U.S has built vast amounts of new electricity generating infrastructure. The total U.S. installed capacity in 2009 was 998 GW, compared with just 65 GW in 1949.


Building sector energy use, 2009

Electricity is 75% of primary energy consumed by U.S. buildings, but 68% of that electricity is lost in conversion and delivery. Oil and natural gas are almost 10 quads of energy, or 25% of total primary energy.


Automotive and oil industry profits

Automakers' profit margin typically hangs around 1% (in the U.S., 0.4%), far below the oil industry’s. The 2007–2008 global financial crisis sharply cut sales of new vehicles and the financial stability of the U.S. Big 3 auto manufacturers (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler).


U.S. natural gas consumption

In Reinventing Fire, natural gas consumption in 2050 is reduced by 36% relative to business-as-usual. This reduction is primarily enabled by improved efficiency in commercial and residential buildings and less reliance on natural gas in the electricity sector.


Buildings’ energy expenditures vs. other U.S. expenditures as percentage of 2008 GDP

Americans spent more than 3% of the nation's GDP in 2008 on building heating, cooling, and lighting—almost two-thirds of the entire defense budget and more than federal government spending on Medicare.


Where does the money go

Despite large aggregate expenditures on buildings, average U.S. consumers spend only ~4% of their total budget on fuel and electricity bills. Consumers have little incentive to reduce their energy bills, despite a variety of ways to do so profitably.


Historic and projected U.S. electricity demand, 1950-2050

While U.S. demand for electricity has risen in all but four years since 1949, the rate of increase has been steadily trending down. The Energy Information Administration predicts an annual growth rate around +1% to 2030 (which RMI extrapolates to 2050). Successfully implementing the energy efficiency improvements in buildings and industry discussed in Reinventing Fire could reduce this to a steady –1%.


Biofeedstock supply curve

The 16 quadrillion BTU of biomass used in 2050 in Reinventing Fire is supplied by agricultural residue, mill residue, dedicated energy crops, municipal solid waste and forestry residue. No cropland or edible feedstock is required.


Category expenses by building type for commercial sector

For commercial buildings, energy and water are 22% of total operating expenses.


Historic and projected CO2 emissions from the U.S. electric sector, 1990–2050

Rocky Mountain Institute’s four scenarios for the future U.S. electricity system ( detailed here ) all have markedly different projected CO2 emissions over the next 40 years.


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