San Francisco company Otherlab has created a massive interactive “Energy Literacy” flowchart that shows all of the energy used in America. The company debuted the chart at an event run by Reinvent, a company dedicated to bringing innovators together to address the world’s most pressing problems. Pulling data from the Department of Energy and other sources, the diagram is the first of its kind to depict the complete flow of energy throughout the US economy.
While this was a massive undertaking, perhaps it’s not so surprising considering the source. Otherlab is run by serial entrepreneur and MacArthur genius Saul Griffith, who once famously calculated the carbon footprint of every single action in his life. When he presented the chart, he told his audience, “I think we may be the first three or four people to read every footnote in every energy agency document ever produced.”
The left side of the diagram shows where our energy comes from – the majority from coal, less than 1 percent from solar. By highlighting a section, readers can track a single energy source to its various ends, seeing just how much energy ends up wasted along the way. For example: with natural gas the waste is substantial, with only half of the generated energy being used.
Some of the major uses of our energy should come as no surprise, such as that used for basic infrastructure. Other uses, like the energy used by US military jets, may raise questions readers didn’t even realize they had. By charting out the connections between all of these industries and our energy production, Griffith hopes it will be possible to better understand the economy and for policy decisions to be made with more accurate information.