The U.S. Per-capita Energy Consumption Rate

Energy in the U.S.
Per-capita use in 1800s

per-capita use in 1990s

3.3 times as much

 In the mid-1800s, U.S. citizens who had the money to travel did so by using trains, but most people simply stayed home.  Electricity was not available.  Lighting was  by tallow candles or whale-oil lamps.  Homes were heated by wood, primarily.

Let us ignore the energy expended by horses, mules, and oxen, and ignore the wind energy that drove the ships at sea (often whaling vessels), and ignore the energy  from farm windmills and small hydro-powered grist mills and factories.  Then the annual per-capita energy used by U.S. citizens of the era amounted to 110  gigajoules.  On a year-round average, this amounts to 3400 joules per second, or 3.4 kilowatts.

[Note: the watt is a measure of power --- energy divided by time ---  whether that power be electrical or not.]

In the late 1990s, the picture is much different.  We scurry around in automobiles, reheat our coffee in microwave ovens, live in centrally heated homes, and have  air-conditioned homes, offices, and cars.  We fly around the country in jet planes, sitting next to passengers using lap-top computers.  We send merchandise all  around the country in trucks.  Our present  per-capita consumption of energy is 360 gigajoules per year, amounting to an around-the-year average consumption of  11,400 joules per second, of 11.4 kilowatts.

What's that?  We only use 3.3 times as much energy per capita per year as our forbears of the 1800s?  

That is correct.

 To main Energy Advocate Index 
The Energy Advocate


Copyright © The Energy Advocate 1998. All rights reserved.