Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Comparing US and European Fossil Fuel Use

Commenter Mister Moose reacted to yesterday's piece by noting that Europe is famously densely settled and with good public transport, accounting for its lower oil usage.  However, what is striking is that European natural gas and coal usage are even more dramatically lower than the US. These next paired pictures show the composite fossil fuel usage (click for larger versions in a separate window). When I first made this, I couldn't quite believe it. I had to go back and double check my formulas to make sure this effect is real: it is.

Another way of looking at the data is to compute the ratio of US usage to European usage for each fuel. Those ratios are as follows:

As you can see, the disparity in NG and coal is even larger than that of oil. Furthermore, Europe is shifting away from coal and towards NG relative to the US.

I imagine these effects primarily reflect politico-cultural differences. Europe has been more energy conscious for a long time, and in particular has long been committed to trying to do at least something about climate change, which the US has not been. The differences show up in the numbers.


Anonymous said...

The UK in particular moved away from coal after Thatcher squashed the miners and we dashed for the gas in the North Sea. It would be interesting to carry out similar analysis for individual countries in Europe, and perhaps for individual US states.

I would guess that a major factor here is that in Europe we now have a carbon price for electricity generators which is higher for coal (per kWh generated) than it is for gas. How far back does your data set go?

Exhausted_Auk said...

The milder climate in Europe probably makes quite a significant contribution to the lower coal and natural gas consumption - less need for heating in the Winter, less need for A/C in the Summer.

John Jensen said...

Can this not largely be accounted for by the higher use of nuclear power in Europe?

pacpost said...

Can't provide a full answer to Jensen's question. However, here's a start.

The U.S. has 104 reactors (100 GWe on the dot, or 800 GWh per year) covering 19% of electricity demand.

Europe has 165 reactors (145 GWe, or just over 1000 GWh per year), covering 30% of demand.

Maybe Stuart can create a few more graphs using those figures.

Like its cars (smaller, more efficient than in the U.S.), Europe generally has smaller, more efficient homes and buildings (higher levels of insulation, general disdain for air conditioning). Climate-wise, if you've been to Spain, Italy, Greece or even Central Europe during the summer, you'd know that the weather there can compete with California, Arizona or Florida for heat and humidity.

KLR said...

How do the US and EU15 compare for population and industrialization? At the time of its 1995 formation the EU-15 had 372 million people. The disparity might not be quite so surprising given the energy requirements of each bloc.

MisterMoose said...

First, as an American consumer of energy, let me just say, "Oink!"

This would be a rather interesting thesis topic (I wonder if some enterprising college student has already done this). If we can adjust for variables such as housing size, relative temperatures, per capita income, energy-related tax rates and so on, we might be able to determine what the Europeans are doing "right" that Americans might want to copy.

If it all comes down to things like milder temperatures (thank you, Gulf Stream!) or smaller houses, then it would be perfectly understandable that Europeans use less energy to heat their homes, but I think it would be interesting to see what other factors might be at play. How about such things as political outlook concerning energy taxes, or willingness to live at a "lower" standard of living? Is the amount of energy that people use determined solely by price? Or, do people who live in more socialist countries have a different outlook than people who live in more capitalist countries?

Stuart, do you think it is even feasible to try to figure out something like this?

jdl75 said...

Personal transport + living accounts for roughly 50% of a developed country energy consumption, from there would think one of the key reason for the difference is the "suburban urbanism" model of the US.

Add to this the tremendous difference in gas (for cars) taxes between EU and the US, and the difference that it induces on the respective cars stocks.

Also probably the climate as said above (especially for AC).

Don't think the recent CO2 oriented measures has anything to to with it.

But the fact that the US has a higher GDP per capita with respect to EU 15 should also be added.

Btw I'm French (living in Paris), and ddon't have a car for at least 10 years (more for the impracticality of it in Paris at the beginning than energy related reasons)

To me the key thing the US should do is raise the tax on cars fuel, this would also "push" the urbanism away from complete sprawl.
(if not too late)

Good comparison of countries fuel taxation in below document (page 62 63) :


Alexander Ac said...

The problem with "saving energy" that it induces recession. Not good for employment, at least in the short-term...

jdl75 said...


"The problem with "saving energy" that it induces recession. "

This one is not so obvious, granted there is a quite high correlation between GDP/capita and energy use.

However there is also the fact that two rooms at 20°C it is the same thing, except that one can be well insulated and consuming almost nothing, whereas the other is badly insulated and consumes a lot.

Another difference being that the first one needed investment, so saving energy is also related to investment and economic activity.

This should probably be the key in our time : favoring CAPEX related energy saving activities over OPEX related happily burning ones.

Alexander Ac said...

Hi jdl75,

I have nothing against energy saving investments.

What I say is that once the energy use is down, economy is down.

What we have in Europe is that we started to insulate houses etc... so energy consumption is down.

Just imagine, what would happen if everybody would be 100 % efficient and independent? Where is global economy then? :-)


Anonymous said...

In regards to the carbon saving measures, I'm not referring to the disparity between the EU and the USA (although I could have made that clearer). That is far more likely to be down to some of the other reasons put forward - climate, smaller distances, lower fuel taxes, etc.

I'm referring to the trajectory of the coal and gas plots. Carbon legislation has undoubtedly led to greater natural gas use in electricity generation and lower use of coal. I was interested to see how far back the dataset goes in order to try and tease out that relationship.