We use a lot of energy. The numbers are truly mind-boggling, both in aggregate and on the individual level. Here are three energy statistics that put personal energy usage into perspective.
1. The average American uses 31,266 burritos of energy each year
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average American uses about 149 million British Thermal Units (BTUs) of energy each year. It is a stat that is pretty meaningless to most of us, since we are not all that familiar with this metric. It sounds big, and it is, but understanding it in context is essential.
While there are several ways to measure energy, the Department of Energy (DOE) breaks this number down using something that is a bit more palpable: food. Specifically, the DOE uses a personal favorite of mine, burritos, to put personal energy usage into context. Food gives us the energy we need to go about our daily lives, and one large burrito contains enough energy for a little more than half a day, meaning each of us (on average) would need to consume roughly 600 of these energy-packed meals to maintain our weight each year. That said, we would need 50 times that energy to meet our transportation and residential energy needs of 149 million BTUs per year. That is equivalent to 31,266 burritos -- enough to upset anyone's stomach.
2. This costs the average American $3,052 per year
According to the most recent figures from the DOE, the average American spent $3,052 on energy in 2012, with the bulk of that spent to fill up at the pump. Those numbers, however, are coming down sharply, thanks to the drop in the price of oil. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), household gasoline expenditures have fallen by roughly $550 since 2014:
This still eats up a decent chunk of our budgets. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American household spent about $55,000 over the past year, including $2,094 on gasoline, or roughly 4% of the household budget. Add in another $1,000 or so for utilities, and 5.5% of our annual expenditures are on energy.
While that is a lot of money, it is much cheaper than buying more than 31,000 burritos a year. For perspective, Chipotle's delicious chicken burritos are about $6.50 apiece. At that price, it would cost a whopping $203,229 per year to meet the average person's energy needs on burrito power alone. While I am sure the fast-casual chain would love it if we powered our homes and cars on their burritos, it is not a cost many of us could afford. That is something to consider, then, next time you are standing at the pump complaining that the price of gas went up by a few pennies.
3. The average American generates three elephants of carbon dioxide per year
Because energy is relatively cheap in America, we use a lot of it. Further, the bulk of the energy we use results in the release of greenhouse gases. According to The Encyclopedia of Earth, the average North American generates roughly 20 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year, which is well above the global average of 4 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. To put it into perspective, that is about the size of three elephants.
Electricity accounts for 37% of emissions in the U.S., compared to about 31% for transportation. Driving those higher emissions is the fact that America generates 33% of its electricity from coal, which produces higher carbon emissions than oil and natural gas.
That said, renewables are starting to take market share from coal. Last year energy-related emissions fell by 2.8%, according to the EIA, thanks in large part to a 12% increase in wind capacity. Those trends are expected to continue, with the EIA projecting that overall renewable capacity will increase by 11.2% this year and 2% next year -- resulting in emissions decreasing by 1.6% and 1.1% in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.B 0.14%) (BRK.A 0.32%) is one of the leaders driving the renewable revolution. Since 2004, Berkshire's MidAmerican Energy subsidiary has invested $6.6 billion in building 3,450 megawatts of wind power alone. Furthermore, Berkshire plans to spend another $3.6 billion to build the Wind XI project, which at 2,000 megawatts would be the largest wind farm in the U.S. Given that 1 megawatt can roughly supply the energy needs of 1,000 houses, Berkshire Hathaway could soon have enough wind capacity to power nearly 9 million homes. As Berkshire and others build additional renewable capacity, it should push down both electricity costs and emissions.