Technology Consumes Energy

Technology Consumes Energy

  • Energy consumption in the US is 100,000 joules of energy per person per day
  • One person can do 1000 joules of work in a day
  • So US citizens live as if they each had 1000 people “slaving” for them
  • What would our lifestyles be like if we had fewer ‘energy slaves'?


An energy slave is a concept referring to the output of work that a healthy human youth could do. The lifestyle of any person can be equated with a certain number of “energy slaves” equivalent to the number of human laborers required to support that person’s way of life.


In 1987 author Stephen Boyden commented that "in the USA, the daily use per capita of energy is around 100 megajoules; that is, each person has the equivalent of 100 energy slaves working 24 hours a day for him or for her.... (but) in some developing countries, the rate of energy use is less than the equivalent of one energy slave per person.”


Energy slaves are “embodied” in technology: that’s the amount of energy required to produce something (consumed over the useful life of the product and includes the energy consumed in disposing of the product). So even technology that is wholly human-powered (e.g. a pen, bicycle, or shovel) is an energy slave.



The term was coined by American philosopher Buckminster Fuller in about 1944. Fuller proposed the term based on the average output of a hard-working man doing 150,000 foot-pounds of work per day and working 250-days per year.

Encyclopedia of Human Thermodynamics: