A Brief History of Human Energy Use
Core Case Study
Everything runs on energy. Some sources of energy, such as oil, coal, and natural gas—also called fossil fuels—as well as uranium used to fuel nuclear power plants, are nonrenewable because
they take millions of years to form in the earth’s crust. Other energy resources such as the sun, wind, flowing water, wood, and heat from the earth’s interior are renewable because they can be replenished by nature within hours or decades.
Human use of energy has grown dramatically throughout history, but especially since European countries began the industrial revolution about 275 years ago. At that time, wood harvested from forests was burned to provide most of the energy used
for heating buildings and running steam engines. By 1850, Europeans were harvesting firewood faster than nature could replace it, and thus they depleted many of the forests that surrounded their rapidly industrializing cities.
European nations, and later the United States, survived
this early energy crisis by learning how to mine and burn coal in homes and in industrial plants. In 1859, raw petroleum was
pumped out of the ground from the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania (USA) and later, we invented ways to convert it to fuels such as gasoline and heating oil. We also learned how to burn natural gas, usually found underground over oil deposits. Then we began burning coal in large, central power plants to produce electricity. In 1885, Carl Benz invented the internal combustion engine that ran on gasoline to power cars and other vehicles. By 1900, we were getting 40% of our total energy
use from oil (mostly from gasoline derived from oil), and in the 1950s, we learned how to produce electricity in nuclear
Today, we continue to live in a fossil fuel era, as most of the energy used in the world and the United States comes from
oil, coal, and natural gas resources (Figure 15-1). These energy resources, like all energy resources, each have advantages and disadvantages that we examine in this chapter. In the next chapter, we look at the advantages and disadvantages of a variety of renewable energy resources.
Figure 15-1 We get most of our energy by burning carbon-containing fossil fuels (see Figure 2-14, p. 46). This figure shows energy use by source throughout the world (left) and in the United States (right) in 2008. Note that oil is the most widely use form of commercial energy and that about 79% of the energy used in the world (85% of the energy used the United States) comes from burning nonrenewable fossil fuels. (These figures also include rough estimates of energy from biomass that is collected and used by individuals without being sold in the marketplace.) Question: Why do you think the world as a whole relies more on renewable energy than the United States does? (Data from U.S. Department of Energy, British Petroleum, Worldwatch Institute, and International Energy Agency)
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Key Questions and Concepts
is net energy and why is it important?
C o n c e p t 1 5 -...
Links: Net Energy Analysis, 1976; and Howard T. Odum and Elisabeth
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