National efficiency

Thermodynamics, especially the first and second laws, are usually perceived as boring and perhaps mysterious by most people, including many engineers, as well as irrelevant by many non-engineers.  However, thermodynamics is fundamental to how engineers deliver products and services to society.  The name ‘thermodynamics’ does not help much, perhaps it would be better to call it ‘energy science’, since it is about energy transfers, conversions and flows.

The national energy flow charts mentioned in my post about ‘Energy Blending’ on 22 May 2013 illustrate nicely the first and second laws of thermodynamics (or energy science).  The underlying basis of the flowcharts is to treat the nation as a system and to account for the energy flows in and out across the system boundaries.  The first law, which is about conservation of energy, demands that the inflow and outflow balance one another, so for the UK and USA the annual inflows were 12.5 and 92 quintrillion joules respectively.  A quadtillion is a million million million or 1 with 18 zeros.

The second law demands that any real process involves an increase in entropy, which is a measure of energy dispersion, essentially lost or wasted energy, and this is also present in the flow charts.  In the centre of the UK chart is electricity generation or conversion with an input totally 82.4 Mtoe [millions tons oil equivalent], an output of 29.5 Mtoe and losses of 48.2 Mtoe, which are demanded by the second law of thermodynamics.  So the overall efficiency of electricity generation in the UK is 35.8% [=desired output/required input].

Footnote: the raw data for the UK and USA energy inflows were 299.2 Mtoe [millions tons oil equivalent] and 97 quadrillion Btu [British Thermal units] respectively which I converted into the SI unit for energy, the joule.  The links for the energy flow charts are:

UK Energy flow chart: http://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/65897/5939-energy-flow-chart-2011.pdf

USA Energy flow chart: http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/pdf/aer.pdf

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