Our Energy Appetite
Tanenbaum, B. Samuel, The World and I
For two centuries, the U.S. economy flourished as energy consumption doubled every 25 years; but in the last quarter century, we have begun to use energy more carefully.
For most of U.S. history, this country's citizens have associated economic progress with feeding our growing energy appetite. As new sources of energy were discovered and harnessed, more and more energy- intensive technologies were developed and put in place. Consequently, the productivity of farms and industries was enhanced, and increasing comforts were provided for homes and workplaces.
Initially, the country's main energy source was wood, used in stoves and fireplaces. At the same time, fast-running streams in New England valleys were equipped with paddle wheels and turbines to provide power for factories and mills. In the early 1800s, enormous supplies of coal were discovered in the Appalachian states, and American life was soon transformed by coal-powered steam engines used in ships, trains, and factories.
Oil production began in western Pennsylvania in 1859, and huge supplies of coal, oil, and natural gas were later discovered in the western states. Coal surpassed wood as the major fuel around 1885, but oil became the main fuel by 1947. About four years later, natural gas surpassed coal as the second-leading energy source.
The first electrical power plant for commercial use was built by Thomas Edison in 1882, in New York City. Thereafter, many new electrical power plants were built, and the power supply grid was expanded across the nation. Thus, electricity became increasingly popular for numerous purposes, including lighting, heating, air-conditioning, and the operation of a wide variety of machines, appliances, and electronic devices. At the same time, Americans adopted gasoline and diesel engines for cars, tractors, trucks, and trains.
Currently, three fossil fuels--oil, natural gas, and coal--provide 85 percent of the energy consumed in the United States, including the energy used to generate electricity. Among them, coal is used almost exclusively to produce electricity. Nuclear power plants and renewable energy sources provide the remaining 15 percent.
A dramatic turnaround
Between 1776 and 1976, the demand for energy in the United States doubled every 25 years or so. Thus, energy consumption was about 250 times higher in 1976 than in 1776. During this period, there were intervals of faster or slower growth in the rate of energy consumption, but there was only one …
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Publication information: Article title: Our Energy Appetite. Contributors: Tanenbaum, B. Samuel - Author. Magazine title: The World and I. Volume: 17. Issue: 8 Publication date: August 2002. Page number: 148. © 1999 News World Communications, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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