Top 30 Energy Consuming Nations

China and the United States, the world’s largest consumers of energy, have been excluded here to allow for greater granularity in the remaining countries.

For more information about these two countries, see here. This data is from 2008. 2009 data should be available in August from the International Energy Agency, which is the source for the U.S. Energy Information Administration, from where this 2008 data came.

[Some similar comparisons are also made in the petroleum, natural gas, and coal section. Also interesting are the per capita consumption numbers, but which countries to include? See sample below]

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Electric Vehicles 19th Century to Today


New York City in 1913.

Early 1800s Steam train travel becomes popular.

1850s Americans begin installing streetcar tracks. Street cars are steam-powered.

1859 Gaston Plante invents the lead-acid battery, though not specifically for transportation applications.

1880 Camille Faure improves Plante’s battery by developing the grid-plate battery in 1880, leading to use with motor power.

1880 Several inventors and companies begin to produce basic automobiles powered by steam, gasoline, electricity, compressed air, hydraulics, levers, and anything else on hand both in the United States and Europe, though Europe is more advanced initially.

1881 First experiments using grid-plate batteries to power a “converted horse streetcar,” conducted by Nicole-Jules Raffard.

1881 Charles Jeantaud begins working with Camille Faure to build an electric propulsion system, which they test with several motors over the next decade.

1885 First practical automobile, a gasoline-powered machine, is in production in Europe: the one-cylinder, three-wheeler Benz.

1890 There are 64 battery-powered streetcars in Europe, a small proportion of the total fleet.

1891 William Morrison builds the first electric automobile in the United States.

1897 The Electric Vehicle Company begins producing Electrobat electric taxicabs in New York, the first commercially-produced electric vehicles

1890 The Lohner-Porsche hybrid electric car is presented at the Paris Exposition. This hybrid electric used both gasoline and a battery, not regenerative braking.

1900 In the United States, 4,192 cars are produced this year: 1,681 steam cars, 1,575 electric, and only 936 gasoline cars, according to the U.S. Census. Statistics may be unrepresentative because of the number of electric taxis sold.

1900-1920 Many makes and models of electric, gasoline, and hybrid electric vehicles become commercially available  in the United States.

1904 More than a third of all vehicles in New York, Boston, and Chicago are electric.

1908 Henry Ford rolls out the Model T, a gas-powered car that was mass produced, initially offering the car at $850 and serially reducing the price until it reached $265 by 1923.

1912 Charles Kettering invents first practical electric starter, eliminating an advantage that electric cars held over gasoline cars.

1929 Electric car fails to compete and fades out of popularity; they’re charged higher fees for their higher weight (due to batteries), they are limited to shorter distances with few charging stations, are not as powerful. At the same time the electric starter and cheap gasoline made gas cars more desirable.

1933-1945 A second, small wave of interest in electric cars begins in England and Europe, spurred by gas rationing and World War II. German, French, and Dutch automakers produced a handful of electric vehicles. Small number of European automakers produce electric cars for transport during gasoline rationing

1949-1951 Tama Electric Motorcar Company of Tokyo sells a small electric car during Japanese gasoline shortage. However, when gas becomes available again, the electric car is discontinued.

1951-1953 The Symetric, a hybrid electric car, is made in France in the mid-1950s using plastic in the body.

1960s Experiments in electric car include a small fiberglass three-wheeler and a hybrid electric car with a nickel-cadmium battery, as well as the more popular Enfield 8000 from England. Even so, only 106 Enfields were built. Ford builds an electric car, the Comuta.

1966 First U.S. bills recommending electric vehicles.

1970 Passing of California’s Clean Air Act signifies a new era where the state takes control of its own air quality standards

1970s Throughout the 70s several more electric vehicles that are designed, though not widely sold, including the AMC Electrosport, the Sebring Vanguard Citicar and the Elcar 2000. Nissan makes the EV4P with lead-acid and zinc-air batteries, while Marathon Electric Car Company of Canada makes hundreds of C-360 vans, with six wheels and a foam-core aluminum body.

1972 Victor Wouk constructs a hybrid from 1972 Buick Skylark for Federal Clean Car Incentive Program, which is subsequently killed four years later.

1990 California passes the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate in California, ordering that 2% of all cars sold in the state be zero emissions by ’98. The requirement extended to 5% by 2001, and 10% by 2003.

1990 General Motors introduces electric prototype car, the unfortunately-named Impact.

1990 There are 41 Stage I smog alerts in California or Los Angeles

1990 Ford produces the Ecostar electric utility van with regenerative braking.

1993 Toyota begins developing the Prius hybrid car, which can’t be plugged in but uses a battery to capitalize on regenerative braking.

1996 Electric cars hit California roads at the same time that the Sport Utility Vehicle begins gaining popularity

1996 The EV1 electric car from General Motors becomes available, but only by lease, not for purchase. It uses plastic body panels supported with aluminum, low drag, and is offered for lease only.

1996 By this time, the nickel metal-hydride battery has been developed to be large enough for a car, and this technology is used in many hybrid cars sold today.

1997 Toyota unveils the Prius hybrid car and begins sales in Japan.

1999 Honda Insight hybrid car arrives in United States.

1999 Toyota Prius arrives in California.

2001 General Motors sues the California Air Resources Board for the electric car sales quota. Other automakers join the suit against California regulators.

2000 California’s AB 2076 requires state agencies to set goals to reduce petroleum consumption.

2002 CA passes Assembly Bill 1493, regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

2003 The new model Prius released and becomes fashion statement.

2003 Various pressures kill the California electric car mandate, and automakers begin pulling their electric vehicles off the road, in some cases crushing or shredding the cars.

2004 By this time, there is only one General Motors EV1 left on the roads.

2005 California’s AB 1007 establishes statewide alternative fuels plan, reduce petroleum consumption by 15% by 2020.

2006 California passes Global Warming Solutions Act, AB 32, which sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved by 2020.

2006 By this time almost all the electric vehicles on the road in California are gone.

2009 According to SB 17, the California Public Utilities Commission must develop smart grid deployment plan to integrate PEV technology, or plug-in electric technology.

2010 Nissan delivers the first U.S. customer the Leaf, an electric car with 100 mile range, a lithium-ion battery, and regenerative braking.

2011 The Tesla Roadster electric sports car is offered. It has a range of 245 miles but costs over $100,000.

2011 By this time, hybrids vehicles are available from Honda, GM, BMW, Ford, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Lincoln, Lexus, GMC, Hyundai, Kia, Cadillac, Porsche, Volkswagon and Ford.  Electric-only cars are available from Nissan and Tesla, as well as many neighborhood electric brands.

2011 California Energy Commission gives out millions of dollars to studying plug-in electric vehicles and energy storage.

2015 Date by which all major auto-makers have announced to produce plug-in electric vehicles, which allow “hybrid” cars with regenerative braking to be charged by plugging them in.

Click here to return to simpler timeline.


Anderson, Curtis D. and Anderson, Judy. Electric and Hybrid Cars: A History. North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2005.
Mom, Gijs. The Electric Vehicle. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Taylor, Alex. “Toyota: the Birth of the Prius.” Fortune Magazine, February 21, 2006.
“Take Charge: Establishing California’s Leadership in the Plug-In Electric Vehicle Marketplace.” California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative
Pollack, Andrew. “General Motors Sues California Over Quota for Electric Car Sales.” The New York Times, February 24, 2001.
“Investment Plan for the Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program,” California Energy Commission, April 2009.
DRIVE California’s Alternative & Renewable Fuel & Vehicle Technology Program.
Who Killed the Electric Car, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, November 14, 2006.
U.S. Energy Information Administration

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Groundwater, the Water Cycle, and Depletion


Water is created and destroyed in natural chemical reactions within plants and animals. However, most water sticks around. It changes phases through the water cycle; it can become polluted with salt, toxic chemicals, or pathogenic organisms. However, it generally doesn’t go away, globally speaking.

The water, or hydrologic, cycle describes how water moves through the atmosphere, on the Earth’s surface, and underground.

As “surface water” in the lakes, streams, rivers and oceans warms from the sun’s electromagnetic radiation, some evaporates into the atmosphere.

This water vapor in the atmosphere condenses into rain and snow, called precipitation. The precipitation falls on the Earth, eventually feeding into streams, lakes, and oceans. Some of the water seeps into the ground and collects in underground aquifers as groundwater. About 20 percent of the U.S. water supply comes from groundwater.

Groundwater can resurface from springs or it can discharge into lakes, streams, rivers, and oceans. High pressures deep inside the Earth can force groundwater up through artesian wells, or groundwater can be pumped up or pulled up in old-fashioned buckets from wells. (“Artesian” means that there’s sufficient water pressure that the groundwater need not be pumped).

Briones Reservoir in Northern California

Humans use water from the surface sources (lakes, rivers, oceans), we collect rainwater and snowmelt, and we also use groundwater. Most of this water gets discharged back out into waterways or oceans. However, water used in homes and businesses is sent to municipal water treatment, after which it is discharged into waterways, returning to the water cycle.




Groundwater isn’t as free-flowing as surface water. Predicting and modeling how it flows is wildly complex, factoring for what’s dissolved in the water and what materials it’s moving through, in three dimensions. What is easy to say is groundwater moves slower than surface water, and it gets recharged more slowly. Because modeling is complex, and tracking depletion involves drilling wells, it’s far more difficult to gauge groundwater depletion than water shortages on the surface.

When groundwater is depleted, it is still there, just lower down, as many as several hundred feet lower in extreme cases. However unseen it is, groundwater depletion – and the lowering of the water table – is very serious for several reasons.

Trees and plants rely on groundwater, and if they cannot reach water with their roots in regions where it doesn’t rain all year long, they can die, and with them all the life that depends upon them.

For people who rely on well-water, depletion can be equally disastrous. As the depth needed to reach the water increases, the amount of energy required to pump it out also increases. Lowering the water table can pollute the water, as saltwater zones can underly freshwater zones.

And even for those who depend on surface water, which is all of us, groundwater depletion can have its effect because ground water feeds surface water and vice-versa. Groundwater depletion can reduce the amount of water in streams and lakes, even if the effects take years to become obvious.



An apartment building in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

As the water table lowers from groundwater depletion, the materials within the ground dry out and the ground can actually collapse in on itself, either suddenly or slowly over time, a phenomenon called subsidence. The most dramatic incidents of subsidence are sinkholes, but most of the sinking is happening imperceptibly slowly. This sinking is why some regions of the Netherlands came to be below sea level; centuries of pumping water out of the peat-based soils shrank them, and the land — protected from flooding by the North Sea and Rhine River waters behind dikes — sunk lower and lower.

Today, subsidence from pumping of water has been recorded all over the United States, but the Santa Clara Valley in California was the first area in the country where land subsidence from human use of groundwater was recognized and the first place that organized remediation to stop the subsidence in 1969, according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey.

While today the region is best known for its Silicon Valley technology, in the late nineteenth century, Santa Clara was full of fruit orchards irrigated with groundwater, much of it from artesian wells, meaning that the wells filled themselves with the pressure of the water created by confined aquifers. Constant reliance on this easy source of groundwater meant by 1930, wells that formerly filled themselves had to be pumped, and by 1964 one well in downtown San Jose had sunk well over 200 feet below the surface.  As water was permanently removed from the ground, the ground shrank, and by 1984, downtown San Jose had sunk quite substantially, to just 84 feet above sea level from 98 feet above sea level in 1910.


For more about water use and energy see here.

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“Cap-and-Trade” and Carbon Tax Proposals


Phosphorus factory smokestack in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.Source: U.S. Library of Congress.

The idea of “cap-and-trade” first emerged in the United States in the 1960s as a device to get the free economy to control pollution, folding in the cost of pollution instead of telling industry how to stop polluting. Often called emission trading, in a working cap-and-trade system, industries that release undesirable compounds into the air, water, or soil have limits of how much they can emit based upon pollution permits. Depending on the system, polluters either are given or have to buy their permits. The government establishes how much total pollution that the permits will grant, an umbrella cap on the economy. If an industry participant wants to release more than the permit allows, they buy the right from another industry player, if available, or perhaps face penalties, depending on the details.

Cap-and-trade can be used to regulate any pollutant, not only carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has three cap-and-trade programs, none of which apply to greenhouse gases. They aim to combat acid rain by reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide compounds, mostly an issue with coal power.

There is no U.S. cap-and-trade for carbon dioxide, though proposals have been raised regularly, and the U.S. House of Representatives passed an emissions trading program  in an energy bill in 2009, but the bill hasn’t been approved by the U.S. Senate, as of June 2011.

Australia has been considering a cap-and-trade program for carbon dioxide, but that too hasn’t been implemented as of June 2011. The European Union has had a carbon emissions trading program since 2005.

For more about greenhouse gases, climate change, and their relationship to energy go here.



In the United States, the Acid Rain Program‘s cap-and-trade system has successfully reduced pollution and cost industry far less than expected, at $3 billion per year instead of the feared $25 billion per year, according to a study [that I haven’t found yet] in the Journal of Environmental Management. Savings from cleaner air and water and avoided death and illness are estimated in the range of $100 billion per year, according to the EPA.

However, acid rain chemicals are easier to tame than carbon dioxide. The goal for the subjects of U.S. regulations today – nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide – is as little as possible. Everyone agrees that these pollutants are bad for the environment and people, and there was a commercially-available solution for nitrous oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions when the cap-and-trade system began in 1990: scrubbers on the smokestacks. Even though the U.S. Congress could have ordered industry to buy the scrubbers, it was easier to pass cap-and-trade politically, and only a certain sector of energy production emits a significant volume of these chemicals. Today, there isn’t consensus about the effects of carbon dioxide gas, which isn’t toxic to humans. There isn’t consensus about how much carbon emissions is acceptable, and there is no viable carbon capture technology. And more than 80 percent (by volume) of energy production methods still produce carbon dioxide, whether that’s from biofuels or coal.

A dynamic map of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.



In 2005, the European Union passed its own cap-and-trade program to limit carbon dioxide emissions, applied to more than 12,000 factories and power plants in 29 countries. The program includes some limits to nitrous oxide, and airlines will be obliged to participate by 2012. The carbon “cap” on total emissions decreases 1.74% per year.

Some regulators have already claimed success, as the carbon dioxide emissions were reduced in 2009; they increased again a little in 2010. However, the EU admits it gave out too many permits and that future permits will need to be tighter. Furthermore, the recession has acted as a major factor in lowered emissions, and European industries haven’t needed to make any technological changes because of lower demand.

“Power companies were given free carbon permits, but they raised electricity fees anyway — as if they had paid the market price for their permits — and pocketed the markup. Many companies were allocated too many allowances, often the result of powerful industries lobbying the governments that give the permits,”  Arthur Max of The Associated Press wrote from Belgium in a 2011 story about the Europeans’ progress.

If the EU’s carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced in coming years has yet to be determined since the real effects of the cap haven’t truly set in.

For more information about the EU’s program see the EU FAQ here.



Ten states in the Northeast have applied a cap-and-trade system to carbon dioxide as of 2008, in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas 10 percent by 2018.

California is planning its own cap-and-trade program, slated to begin December 2011. Ten Canadian provinces and Western U.S. states and have joined California in the Western Climate Initiative, with the hope that there will be a regional cap-and-trade program too.



Carbon taxes are another way to integrate emissions reductions into the economy. The taxes makes a beeline for fossil fuels, which are far and away the main source of carbon dioxide emissions, whether they’re burned in vehicles or for electricity. A carbon tax on fuels raises the overall price, in theory reducing our ability to buy too much.  That means that industries or individuals can still produce as much carbon dioxide as they please, but they’ll have to pay for it.

Some economists prefer carbon taxes, as they are simpler to enforce, particularly internationally, and there’s likely to be less dramatic shifts in pricing. Others prefer cap-and-trade because there’s a finite ceiling to emissions. Many other arguments support either measure.

From a carbon tax perspective, diesel fuel and natural gas have an advantage over gasoline and coal, respectively, since they produce less carbon dioxide for the energy they generate. Of course, solar and wind produce none, but biofuels are more complex. Many carbon taxes in effect exclude biofuels like wood waste, even though they produce carbon dioxide.

Several European countries and individual U.S. states have various carbon taxes, applied from anywhere in the range of cents to close to $100 per ton, about as much carbon dioxide as would be emitted from using roughly 103 gallons of gasoline. These taxes are still low enough that they aren’t halting emissions. (For more details about calculating carbon emissions, see The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.)

In the United States, carbon taxes in individual states are currently insignificant compared to other market pressures on the price of fuels, particularly in the case of petroleum.


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