Electricity consumption is a major concern for a lot of people in the world, for a variety of reasons. Industrial businesses need electricity to keep their machines running, environmentalists fear the pollution produced by some methods of electrical generation and by general electrical overuse, and millions of everyday people from a variety of academical backgrounds and social statuses have at least some awareness of their use of electricity, if nothing else then for the sake of their pocketbooks. Since it’s the part of the world I am most familiar with in general, and specifically in regards to electricity consumption, I will focus on the United States for this article. I will give a brief history of electricity consumption in the United States, the current use of electricity in the US, and trends going into the future.
When mass electrification began
I’m going to step back just for a moment in regards to the history of electrical consumption in the United States. Before electricity, humans used energy from their own muscles, the muscles of domesticated animals such as horses, and from the burning of materials such as wood and coal. With a great deal of forest in the early United States of the 18th century, American were able to get plentiful firewood for home heating from the trees which covered much of North America East of the Appalachian Mountains. Firewood and coal both became more useful with the advent of steam power in the late 18th century, and the rapid expansion of this form of energy use across the 19th century. Burning wood or coal produces heat, which heats water, which boils into steam, which can be used to move metal machinery such as the engine of a train. Coal was soon found far superior in its energy density compared to wood, and replaced it as the main source of steam power.
Steam power led to electrical energy in this way: the boiling of water into steam, whether by wood, coal, natural gas, gasoline, or enriched uranium, can turn a generator which, through copper coils, produces electricity which can be harnessed for use in moving parts and light bulbs. The use of coal power plants for electricity increased rapidly starting in the late 19th century with spreading of electric light as a replacement for kerosene gas lamps. The incandescent light bulb is credited to Thomas Edison, (there is some historical dispute about Edison’s patents,) and in the late 19th century the use of the light bulb spread into American homes, streets, and businesses, and this naturally created more demand for power plants, which allowed for more electrical consumption.
Electricity consumption today, in the US and the world
Let’s now look at what the current state of American electrical consumption is. It’s important to note that consumption of electric energy is measured in terms of watts by hours. The United States uses about thirteen and a half thousand kilowatt hours of electricity per capita, as of 2010. This can be compared with the six and a half thousand kilowatt hours per capita for Russia, and three thousand kilowatt hours per capita for China. The global per capita use of electricity is approximately three thousand kilowatt hours per capita. And, the world total of electricity consumption in 2008, (the most recent year I could find,) is well over twenty thousand TERAWATT hours. About forty percent of the energy consumption in the US is electricity consumption, as of 2008. The county consumes about twenty percent of the entire world’s supply of electricity. The average cost of residential kilowatt hours is about one hundred and seven dollars ($107) per month. Forty percent of American electricity comes from coal thirty percent is from natural gas, nineteen percent is from nuclear, seven percent from hydroelectric, and the remainder from a mix of renewable sources such as wind and solar.
Looking to electricity consumption of the future
Currently, as mentioned before, solar and wind are growing as a percentage of the electricity generation of the future, so more electricity will naturally be consumed from those sources. Electricity consumption in developing nations is likely to increase, whereas in developed countries the rate of growth in the consumption will slow and perhaps decline, due to a low birth rate and increasing energy efficiency.