What Do We Use Energy For?

We would like to refer to proper studies on what is our energy use. Unfortunately most of the studies are based on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions rather than energy. Although the two do not correlate exactly1 in some places we are going to use CO2 emissions as a proxy for energy consumption. This should not be a problem since here we just want to give a rough idea rather than an exact analysis.

This question of what we use energy for is a bit more complicated than it seems and there are several ways of looking at it.First of all let us have a look at the conventional way of looking at it.

UK Energy Usage2

Just over 28% of our energy is used in our homes. Transport is nearly 40% but this includes all transport and not just private car use. Nearly 20% is used by industry.

Although this view is useful it does not tell us how energy is finally ‘consumed’. Industry provides goods and services which is eventually consumed by us as consumers. That energy is called ’embodied energy’ in the goods and services that we buy.

For example if you buy a beefburger then you have to consider the energy that went into growing the crops (including the energy that went into producing the fertiliser and pesticides), transporting the crops, farming the animal, butchering and freezing, transporting the meat to the supermarket etc. All this adds a considerable amount to the energy that we ‘consume’.

In fact direct energy use is only a small part of the energy that we consume with some studies suggesting it is only 20% of our greenhouse gas emissions3.

Some of the goods and services that industry provide are also exported. However we import a lot more ’embodied energy’ than we export4.

Comparison of production- and consumption based UK emissions3

You can see that there is a big difference (33%) between the production based approach (as shown in the pie chart) and a consumption based approach.

We can now see how we ultimately consume energy5.

Graphic taken from Attributing Carbon Emissions to Functional
Household Needs: a pilot framework for the UK5


1 Greenhouse Gas emission arise in other ways than energy productions for example in the production of concrete. The relationship is also different depending on what country the energy is used due to the mix of fuel used in energy production.

2 Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics 2012, Department of Energy and Climate Change (http://www.decc.gov.uk/assets/decc/11/stats/publications/dukes/5949-dukes-2012-exc-cover.pdf)

3 The distribution of total greenhouse gas emissions by households in the UK, and some implications for social policy Ian Gough, Saamah Abdallah, Victoria Johnson, Josh Ryan-Collins and Cindy Smith, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics, July 2011 (amended March 2012) http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/case/cp/CASEpaper152.pdf

4 Consumption-based accounting of CO2 emissions, Steven J. Davis and Ken Caldeira (http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0906974107)

5 Attributing Carbon Emissions to Functional Household Needs: a pilot framework for the UK, Jackson, T., Papathanasopoulou, E., Bradley, P., and A Druckman, Centre for Environmental Strategy, University of Surrey (http://www.ecomod.org/files/papers/1335.pdf)


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