South Association Forum FSA - September 2011
5 - 9 September 2011, Gdańsk, Poland

Primary energy

Primary energy (PE) is an energy form found in nature that has not been subjected to any human engineered conversion process. It is energy contained in raw fuels, and other forms of energy received as input to a system. Primary energy can be non-renewable or renewable.
Where primary energy is used to describe fossil fuels, the embodied energy of the fuel is available as thermal energy and around 70% is typically lost in conversion to electrical or mechanical energy. There is a similar 60-80% conversion loss when solar and wind energy is converted to electricity, but today's UN conventions on energy statistics counts the electricity made from wind and solar as the primary energy itself for these sources. One consequence of this counting method is that the contribution of wind and solar energy is under reported compared to fossil energy sources, and there is hence an international debate on how to count primary energy from wind and solar.
Energy carriers are energy forms which have been transformed from primary energy sources. Electricity is one of the most common energy carriers, being transformed from various primary energy sources such as coal, oil, natural gas, and wind. Electricity is particularly useful since it has low entropy (is highly ordered) and so can be converted into other forms of energy very efficiently. District heating is another example of secondary energy.
Source energy, in contrast, is the term used in North America for the amount of primary energy consumed in order to provide a facility’s site energy. It is always greater than the site energy, as it includes all site energy and adds to it the energy lost during transmission, delivery, and conversion. While source or primary energy provides a more complete picture of energy consumption, it cannot be measured directly and must be calculated using conversion factors from site energy measurements. For electricity, a typical value is three units of source energy for one unit of site energy. However, this can vary considerably depending on factors such as the primary energy source or fuel type, the type of power plant, and the transmission infrastructure. One full set of conversion factors is available as technical reference from Energy STAR.
Either site or source energy can be an appropriate metric when comparing or analyzing energy use of different facilities. The U.S Energy Information Administration, for example, uses primary (source) energy for its energy overviews but site energy for its Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey and Residential Building Energy Consumption Survey. The US Environmental Protection Agency's Energy STAR program recommends using source energy, and the US Department of Energy uses site energy in its definition of a zero net energy building.

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