Have you ever asked or heard those questions asked at an event or conference lately?
I know I have scrambled around trying to inject some life into a dying BlackBerry on more than one occasion. It is not that big a deal for most of us, a minor annoyance at worst, after thirty minutes or so plugged back into the grid we are back in business.
Electricity is everywhere, it is such a critical part of our day to day personal and professional lives, we take it for granted, get spoiled by it, and mostly are incapable if dealing like adults in the occasional power outage.
I was thinking about this when I heard about the latest tragedy in an American coal mine, this one in West Virginia.
The demand for energy in the United States is astounding. From the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) we learn that total U.S. energy use in 2008 was nearly 100 quadrillion (=1015, or one thousand trillion) British Thermal Units (Btu). One quadrillion Btu, often referred to as a “quad,” therefore represents about 1% of total U.S. energy use.
The chart form the EIA shows the primary energy sources in the US for 2008:
Coal, supplies about the quarter of all the country's primary energy supply. That may come as
a surprise to many of us, (it was to me), as our most common interaction with 'primary' energy sources is when we fill up our car's gas tanks, and run over to the local Jiffy Lube every few months.
We are constantly aware of and informed about the ebbs and flows in the crude oil market, since the fluctuating prices of a barrel of oil seems to be reflected in the price at the pump almost instantly.
We hear and think much less about coal mining, (mainly only when there is an accident and tragedy). Since the predominant use of coal in the United States is used to supply electricity generation, we as consumers don't interact with the primary source of the energy at all.
When we are out searching for an outlet for our iPhones no one I know of makes a kind of mental connection back to the coal mines in West Virginia or Wyoming.
But the coal mines, or rather the coal miners of these states and others are the primary source of that electricity that we tap into every day. Again from the EIA, when we look at the primary sources of energy in the US and how that energy is consumed, we see that 91% of the coal sourced in 2008 was used in the generation of electric power, making coal the largest primary source of electricity in the United States.
Coal is not exciting, coal is not all that sexy. Getting all jazzed up because you just got a new Prius and don't have to gas up as much is about as close as any of us will get to really impacting the use of primary energy sources.
Although I have to believe it takes a heck of an amount of energy to manufacture all those Prius batteries, but that is another story.
Today I am thinking about electricity, thinking about our never ending pursuit of more. More gadgets, devices, ways to stay in touch, informed, connected 24x7.
We so casually talk about getting unplugged once in a while, or going 'off the grid'. But we think about that only in terms of how it affects us, we brag in a way about having such remarkable mental ability to go off line for a weekend or on a vacation like it is some kind of achievement. Look, I think it is important to put down the phones, laptops, iPads more often, I need to do more of it myself, but when we do, stop being so proud about it.
How about this, the next time you do 'unplug', think for a minute about all the costs associated with providing us this incredible abiltiy to interact, connect, create, and build things. Everytime we send an email, write a blog post, send a tweet, download or upload a video (and on and on) we are tapping in to the efforts of many brave men and women who are willing to put themselves in danger to extract resources from deep underground. We all fall over ourselves in praise of designers from Apple, or creators of the next 'killer' app for Twitter, we should try to at least have the same respect and admiration for the miners as well.