Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.

KSN - Vol 22, No 4 - Energy: An Unappreciated Commodity

Volume 22, Number 4 - April 1976

Energy: An Unapperciated Commodity

by DeWayne Backhus

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Published by Emporia Kansas State College

Prepared and issued by The Division of Biology

Editor: Robert J. Boles

Editorial Committee: James S. Wilson, Gilbert A. Leisman, Thomas Eddy, Robert F. Clarke

Online format by: Terri Weast

The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April of each year by the Kansas State Teachers College, 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. Second-class postage paid at Emporia, Kansas.

"Statement required by the Act of October, 1962: Section 4369, Title 39, United States Code, showing Ownership, Management and Circulation." The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February, and April. Editorial Office and Publication Office at 1200 Commercial Street, Emporia, Kansas, 66801. The Naturalist is edited and published by the Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Editor, Robert J. Boles, Department of Biology.

The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to Kansas teachers, school board members and administrators, librarians, conservationists, youth leaders, and other adults interested in nature education. Back numbers are sent free as long as supply lasts, except Vol.5, No.3, Poisonous Snakes of Kansas. Copies of this issue may be obtained for 25 cents each postpaid. Send orders to The Kansas School Naturalist, Division of Biology, Emporia Kansas State College, Emporia, Kansas, 66801.


This issue of The Kansas School Naturalist was written by DeWayne Backhus, Assistant Professor in the Division of Physical Sciences at EKSC. He will dig deeper into the Energy Crisis in a future issue.  

The author wishes to express his appreciation to Leona Creager and Robert Boles for the preparation of illustrations used in this isse. Thanks is also expressed to Wil-Jo Associates, Inc., and William "Bill" Mauldin, and to the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, Inc., for permission to use the timely and thought-provoking cartoons relating to the Energy Crisi.

Energy: An Unapperciated Commodity

by DeWayne Backhus

Energy has recently taken on a new meaning in the minds (and activities!) of most people.

Why has this occurred?

Simply stated, the technological society which we know, and take for granted, cannot "run" by itself. It requires an external commodity known as energy (fuel) to make it serve our needs. Some persons, but
not all, now recognize the pervasive role of energy in our personal and collective lives. Even the cartoonist
reflects this concern; four cartoons are offered as illustrative examples on page 4. As they indicate, our
energy dilemma is characterized by much discussion, high consumption rates, and environmental concerns.

political cartoons

political cartoon political cartoon

This issue of the Naturalist will be devoted to a presentation of background information regarding energy: sources of energy today, quantities being consumed, trends of consumption, consumers of energy, and evidence of and reasons for our current energy dilemma. With that as a background, a second issue (scheduled for the Fall of 1976) will consider some energy management issues and alternatives for the future.


Fundamentally, the sun's energy has always provided man with his basic energy needs, which is shown in Diagram 1. The essence of each man's basic energy need is 2000 to 3000 units (kilocalories) per day -- energy supplied in the form of food. All stages of societal development have demanded that as the minimum for sustenance, whether that society was primitive, or technologically advanced.

The United States now consumes huge quantities of energy. An advanced technological society, such as the US., has a daily per capita consumption of 230,000 units. This is about 160 times the energy supplied by the food necessary to sustain and maintain life. And that energy is primarily supplied by our fossil fuels: petroleum (oil), natural gas, and coal. These conventional fuels are stored sunlight, as can be seen by a study of Diagram 1.

Diagram 1 - Solar Energy Budget for the Earth


Our fuels are used by four primary consumers: (1) electrical generation, (2) transportation (to move people and goods), (3) industry (where goods are manufactured) , and (4) in commercial (where goods and services are sold) and residental (where people live) establishments. Electrical generation consumes approximately 25 percent of our primary energy; transportation, 25 percent; industrial 30 percent; and commercial and residental combined, 20 percent. This is presented graphically in Figure 1. These figures are representative, early 1970, consumption figures. Their values are fluctuating and changing somewhat; for example, electrical generation is growing as some liquid fuel systems are being converted to electricity. The introduction of smaller compact automobiles would and is tending to shrink slightly the transportation component.

But, back to consumers of energy. The electricity which is generated as  a result of the combustion of certain fuels (coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear, geothermal) and hydroelectric installations is not stored; it is
distributed to end-use consumers. Hence, as Figure 2 indicates, transportation uses consume a bit more than 25 percent of our energy; industry, just under 40 percent; and commercial and residental combined, nearly 35 percent These ends are often subtle, but yet they are familiar aspects of our lives -- we have homes to live in, and we use or consume objects or goods produced by industries and sold in stores. So,
ultimately, all persons are consumers of energy.

Figure 1. Primary Energy Consumers Figure 2. "End-Use" Consumers

Often aggravating our energy consumption situation is the fact that energy-consuming processes and devices are not always able to utilize energy efficiently. For any form of energy (fuel) to be useful to us, it
must undergo some changes or transformations. A pile of coal contains energy, but it is useful to us as a fuel only if it is burned. This changes it to thermal (heat) energy. Consider coal, oil, or natural gas in an electrical-generating facility. Figure 3 suggests the various transformations which energy must experience to produce the electricity. Thus, as the energy "flows" from chemical energy stored in the coal (or other fossil fuel) to steam in the boiler, to the motion of a turbine coupled to the generator producing electricity, some of the energy inherent in the coal is "lost" -- it does not do useful work for us. In fact, about 17 percent of all energy consumed each year in the U.S. is "lost" in electrical generation. Figure 4 illustrates the various losses in an electrical generating plant. If 10 units of energy in the form of coal, oil, or natural gas are put into the boiler, 1 unit is lost as heat up the stack, about 3.8 units will be sent out as electricity, and the remaining 5.2 units will be expelled to the surrounding environment (generally to a lake or river) as heat. By the time other electrical transmission losses are considered, only about 30 percent of the inherent energy that entered the boiler will do useful work for us.

Figure 3. Energy Conversion In Electrical Generation



Where does our energy come from -- or what are our primary energy sources (fuels)? The fossil fuels, stored sunlight, provide 95 percent of our energy. Coal supplies 20 percent of our energy; petroleum (oil), 40 percent; natural gas, 35 percent; hydropower, about four percent; and nuclear and geothermal combined, about one percent. These again are representative, early 1970 consumption figures, and subject to slight seasonal and annual fluctuations. Figure 5 presents this information. From a standpoint of
long-term considerations, only hydropower serves as a renewable resource -- the remainder are nonrenewable, finite energy resources. That is a root of the problem.

Figure 5 - Energy Sources, Early 1970's

We, as a nation, and individually, are consuming these nonrenewable fossil fuels in awesome quantities,
and this is another dimension of the problem. In the early 1970's, the U.S. consumed 600 million tons of coal, or about three tons per person per year!

During that same time, the U.S. consumed about five billion barrels of crude oil a year. These were five
billion, 42-gallon barrels. That is a per capita consumption of nearly 25 barrels, or a little over 1,000 gallons, for every man, woman, and child. A lot? Yes. But not really if one considers that if all those 1,000
gallons were converted to gasoline, it would take one only about 15,000 miles in an automobile driving at the rate of 15 miles per gallon. (Consider also that there are about 100,000,000 registered vehicles!) In addition, the U.S. consumes annually about one-third of the crude oil produced worldwide.

We also consume huge quantities of natural gas. The early 1970's consumption, spurred by inordinately
low prices, relative to other fuels, and environmental regulations promoting the use of this clean-burning fuel, was about 20 trillion cubic feet. That is a per capita consumption of 100,000 cubic feet each year -- imagine a container of gas at normal atmospheric pressures that has dimensions of 100 feet by 100 feet and is ten feet high! Again, much was burned, but much was also used as a raw material for fertilizer, fabrics (stay-pressed clothing), and other chemicals.

These seemingly impossible-to-imagine numbers are only part of the story producing our dilemma -- yes, crisis. Their relationship to the individual is portrayed in Figure 6.

Figure 6


Another facet involves the fact that, each year, until very recently, we were consuming more and more of these seemingly inexhaustible and readily available fuels.

The terms to describe that increase are growth rate and doubling period. The growth rate is generally given as a percent increase per unit of time. For example, until the recent influence of price increases, the
embargo, some conservation efforts, fairly mild winters, and a reasonably high unemployment figure, the
annual increase during the decade of 1960 of coal consumption was about five percent; of oil, six percent; and na tural gas consumption had been increasing at the rate of about seven percent over the previous year. These were essentially unrestrained growth consumption figures -- and we would probably have them now except for those limiting factors mentioned previously.

The doubling period, an equally awesome and related concept, is simply the time required for the amount of a quantity being considered to double. The doubling period. (D.P.) is related to the growth rate (G.R.) by the expression: D.P. (years) = 70/G.R. (expressed as a whole number percent). For example, if inflation increases seven percent annually, the price of an item will double every ten years!

(D.P . = 70/7 = 10 years). Will your salary? My salary? Yes, the growth rate and doubling period can be
frightening concepts.

Figure 7

Consider this. From a conservative estimate based upon late 1960 and early 1970 figures, if our oil consumption increased six percent each year, the amount of oil would double ever 12 years. If we consumed 17 million barrels per day in 1972, we could project an unrestrained consumption of 34 million barrels per day in 1984. See Figure 7. Furthermore, in 1984 we could have twice the pollution load as in 1972 . Also the TOTAL consumption of oil in those 12 years, from 1972 to 1984, would be equivalent to the total consumption of our entire previous history! Figure 8 shows graphically that, if half of the oil resources had been consumed prior to 1972, the other half would be consumed in the period to 1984! If the doubling period concept doesn't seem significant, consider the "lily pond" analogy:

"You have a pond on which a single lily plant is growing It is assumed to double in size every day. It is assumed that if you do nothing to check them, lilies will cover the whole pond in 30 days. You decide to take it easy until the lilies cover half the pond. What day is that? This is the 29th day! On a doubling everyday basis, you have just one day to save your pond!"1

Hence, the crisis involves problems of magnitudes (billions of barrels) and rates (a percent increase per
year) of consumption. Thus, if we know the growth rate, and an annual consumption figure, we can calculate our projected needs for fuel. This assumes, of course, that growth could and would continue at that rate, and that that amount could be obtained and delivered when and where it is needed.

Table 1 presents some calculations for crude oil, based upon a 1970 consumption fjgure of 5.37 billion
barrels of oil.2

Figure 8

But those numbers in the Table alone don't require that we have a problem. The problem arises when we consider whether this consumption or growth is possible. That requires that we look at our reserves. Various estimates indicate that the U.S. has about 40 billion barrels of reasonably certain crude oil (called proved reserves). This is less than a ten year supply, assuming that we rely entirely on domestic oil. (And, of course, we are importing about 40 percent of our oil now!) There are also estimates that perhaps 80-100 billion barrels of additional oil can be found.3 But again this takes us only through the latter part of this century. Granted, additional oil (reserves) will be found, but the limited (finite) nature of these resources is becoming clearer every day. Also, oil is more difficult to find, and more exploration (drilling) must be done today than was true in years past to obtain a barrel of oil. To the consumer, this means higher prices.

Table 1 - US Crude Oil Projections

*The Annual Consumption figures are figures for a given year. The Cumulative figure represents the sum of annual figures calculated from 1970. Note that calculations are for three growth patterns: no growth, a three percent annual increase, and a six percent annual increase.

Eventually, a finite resource will peak in production, and begin to return to zero, as is shown by the graph in Figure 9. The peak for oil production in Kansas occurred in 1956! And for the U.S. as a whole, this peak occurred in 1970. Only foreign additions have kept our consumption at the levels of recent years.

Even the Alaskan North Slope oil is not our eternal salvation. Perhaps there are 15 billion barrels of oil -- a
three-year supply at current consumption rates. But there are physical limitations to its delivery -- only about two million barrels per day can be delivered, and that is about one-eighth of our daily consumption.

The only fossil fuel yet available in large quantities is coal. But it is bulky, dirty, and not nearly so versatile as oil and gas. Hence, the fossil fuels of oil and natural gas upon which our technological society depends for 75 percent of its source is in seriously short supply. Tremendous effort will have to be expended and with a critical time lag to develop remaining domestic (on-shore and off-shore) reserves of oil and gas.

So we are all troubled and puzzled by the systems around us which are so seriously threatened. Many attempts to manipulate the situation have led to further problems and frustrations. Let us consider some of the dynamic interactions of a few facets of the entire energy problem. Figure 10 represents some of those facets: people, standard of living, resources, the environment, and the economy.

Figure 9

We are a collection of people called a population. People complicate the problem in two ways: by their
numbers, and by their lifestyles. World-wide, it is a problem of numbers; in the United States, it is more a problem of standard of living or lifestyle. As has already been indicated, our per capita consumption is extremely high; we consume about one-third of all resources produced worldwide, but we constitute only
about six percent of the world's population.

People have, or develop, needs, some of which are real, others are artificial. For purposes of illustration, let one need be for mobility -- the need to transport people and/or goods. Man builds systems to satisfy needs. One such system is the automobile, which today accounts for about 15 percent of all energy consumed in the United States. And nearly 15 percent of the nation's working force is dependent upon the automobile for employment! (And that is not just for driving to work.) Nevertheless, we built them to go faster, and with more comforts, all of which defined for us a desirable standard of living.

Figure 10

And as we increased the number of autos, and added more conveniences (and weight at one time), we
demanded more resources. This is a decision which man makes, which presumably enhances his standard of living.

Then in the late 1960's, a strong environmental conscience emerged. This challenged continued affluence,
so technological means were undertaken to correct environmental degradations. These means, in part,
resulted in an increased fuel consumption, which has taken its toll on our energy resources.

And then during 1973 and 1974, we were faced with the reality of limited availabilities of gasoline, and to our dismay, a doubling in the price of gasoline. So economics, both personal and corporate, is a factor which enters the ever complex situation of energy policy and management.

These factors are quite dynamic. One can and does affect the other. Increases in the price of a unit of
energy can create more resources, that is, marginal resources for which concentrations are low or extraction
is difficult may then become what are called proved reserves. Strange? Maybe. But that is the reality of a
complex, technological society.

Thus, perhaps one of the main reasons that we are faced with a real energy crisis is because of the sheer
complexity of the problem. It is what might be called a synergistic problem -- attempts to manipulate one
component have led to unpredicted and undesired consequences in another component. The scope of the problem is so vast, and the time dimensions so distant, that many of our traditional institutions and agencies have difficulty coping with them in a coordina ted manner.

Fortunately, some identifiable factors affecting energy policy and management in the future do exist. A
subsequent issue of the Naturalist will consider some of those.

1. " The Club of Rome and Its Computer," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 1973, p.37.

2. US. Department of the Interior, United States Energy Through the Year 2000, by Walter G. Dupree, Jr., and James A. West, December. 1972.

3. See, for example:

a. "Summary Petroleum and Selected Mineral Statis tics for 120 Countries, Including Offshore Areas," Geological Survey Professional Paper 817, U.S. Department of the Interior, March 3, 1973. U.S. Government Printing Office.

b. "U.S.G. S. Re-estimates Reserves," Geotimes, August 1975, pps. 20-21.

c. "FEA Reports on Proved Reserves," Geotimes, August 1975, pp. 22-23.

Figures for which no references are cited are considered to be widely accepted, order-of-magnitude, figures or data.


This issue of The Kansas School Naturalist completes twenty-two years of publication of the magazine. During this time we have covered a wide range of topics. We hope all of our readers have been able to find some issues of special interest to them through the years.

For some time now we have been saving all the small donations that are sent to us from time to time, hoping to accumulate enough to produce another issue in color, like the issue on Poisonous Snakes. The
present Editor hopes it will be possible to do this before he relinquishes the office to someone else. We have considered Kansas birds and Kansas flowers as possible subjects for the color issue. Do our readers have a preference?

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