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Beyond buildings: energy efficiency on the go

by Jim Merriam, Director of Efficiency Vermont

In celebration of this year’s “Way to Go!” week, I thought it would be fun to take a quick look at an area where we Vermonters use a lot of energy: transportation.

Unless we are filling up at the gas pump, we don’t always think about just how much energy it takes to keep our economy moving. Our rural landscape makes us very dependent on cars and trucks to get from home to work and back – as well as virtually every other place we need to go.

In fact, the transportation sector is the single largest energy user in Vermont, consuming some 34% of our total energy.

So where is all that energy actually taking us? Not as far as we think, as it turns out.

This infographic from the U.S. Department of Energy shows where the energy from gasoline goes once it’s pumped into a vehicle.

This infographic from the U.S. Department of Energy shows where the energy from gasoline goes once it’s pumped into a vehicle. Source:

You can’t get there from here

By most estimates, only about 10-20% of the energy that you put into your car’s gas tank is actually used to move the wheels. The rest of it is lost in the engine, as part of the combustion process, and various other parts of the drivetrain – all adding up to a loss of more than 80%. Multiply that by the number of cars, trucks, and fleet vehicles on our roads and you have a staggering amount of wasted energy.

In comparison, about 60% of the energy that is put into an electric car makes it to the wheels. But if that is the direction that the transportation sector takes in coming years, we also need to consider the impact of all those vehicles plugging into the electric grid. Will there be enough power to meet their needs? What role can energy efficiency play in ensuring a smooth transition to electrified transportation?

Getting us where we want to be

I would argue that anywhere energy is being used, there is always potential for efficiency to help us do better. This is a big topic to tackle – and one that clearly carries huge implications for our state, our country and the planet.

But what does it mean for you this week?

Find a new way to go, and explore Vermont in a new way! If you do change up your commute this week, tell us about your experience in the comments below. With any luck, this will be yet another case where energy efficiency helps both the planet and your wallet.

Additional Information: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Transportation and Air Quality


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