Evidence of a Decline in Electricity Use by U.S. Households

It has been slowing down for decades, but is electricity use by American households now going down?

Americans tend to use more and more of everything.  As incomes have risen, we buy more food, live in larger homes, travel more, spend more on health care, and, yes, use more energy. Between 1950 and 2010, U.S. residential electricity consumption per capita increased 10-fold, an annual increase of 4% per year.

But that electricity trend has changed recently. American households use less electricity than they did five years ago. The figure below plots U.S. residential electricity consumption per capita 1990-2015. Consumption dipped significantly in 2012 and has remained flat, even as the economy has improved considerably.

USelecSource: Constructed by Lucas Davis at UC Berkeley using residential electricity consumption from EIA, and population statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Broad Decreases

The decrease has been experienced broadly, in virtually all U.S. states. The figure below shows that between 2010 and 2015, per capita residential electricity consumption declined in 48 out of 50 states. Only Rhode Island, Maine, and the District of Columbia experienced increases.

StatesSource: Constructed by Lucas Davis at UC Berkeley using residential electricity consumption from EIA, and population statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.  Electricity use per capita is measured in megawatt hours.

This pattern stands in sharp contrast to previous decades. During the 1990s and 2000s, for example, residential electricity consumption per capita increased by 12% and 11%, respectively, with increases in almost all states. Previous decades experienced much larger increases.

Energy-Efficient Lighting

So what is different? Energy-efficient lighting. Over 450 million LEDs have been installed to date in the United States, up from less than half a million in 2009, and nearly 70% of Americans have purchased at least one LED bulb. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) are even more common, with 70%+ of households owning some CFLs.  All told, energy-efficient lighting now accounts for 80% of all U.S. lighting sales.

It is no surprise that LEDs have become so popular. LED prices have fallen 94% since 2008, and a 60-watt equivalent LED lightbulb can now be purchased for about $2. LEDs use 85% less electricity than incandescent bulbs, are much more durable, and work in a wide-range of indoor and outdoor settings.

peakSource: Energy.Gov, “Revolution…Now”, September 2016.

Is this really big enough to matter? Yes! Suppose that between LEDs and CFLs there are now one billion energy-efficient lightbulbs installed in U.S. homes. If operated 3 hours per day, this implies savings of 50 million megawatt hours per year, or 0.16 megawatt hours per capita, about the size of the decrease above. Thus, a simple back-of-the-envelope bottom-up calculation yields a similar decrease to the decline visible in aggregate data.

Alternative Hypotheses

No other household technology is as disruptive as lighting. Incandescent bulbs don’t last long, so the installed stock turns over quickly. Air conditioners, refrigerators, dishwashers, and other appliances, in contrast, all have 10+ year lifetimes. Thus, although these other technologies have also become more energy-efficient, this can’t explain the aggregate decrease. The turnover is too slow, and the gains in energy-efficiency for these other appliances have been too gradual for these changes to explain the aggregate pattern.

Traditional economic factors like income and prices also can’t explain the decrease in electricity use. Household incomes have increased during this period, so if anything, income effects would have led electricity use to go up. Moreover, between 2010 and 2015, the average U.S. residential electricity price was virtually unchanged in real terms, so the pattern does not seem to be the result of prices.

Another potential explanation is weather. The summer of 2010 was unusually hot, so this partly explains why electricity consumption was so high in that year. But the broader pattern in the figure above is clear even if one ignores 2010 completely. Moreover, I’ve looked at these data more closely and there is a negative trend in all four seasons of the year: Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring.

Rebound Effect?

This is not the first time in history that lighting has experienced a significant increase in energy-efficiency. In one of my all-time favorite papers, economist Bill Nordhaus examines the history of light from open fires, to candles, to petroleum lamps, to electric lighting. Early incandescent lightbulbs circa 1900 were terribly inefficient compared to modern incandescent bulbs, but marked a 10-fold increase in lumens per watt compared to petroleum lamps. However, as lighting has become cheaper, humans have increased their consumption massively, consuming thousands of times more lumens than they did in the past.

Economists refer to this price effect as the “rebound effect”.  As lighting becomes more energy-efficient, this reduces the “price” of lighting, leading to increased consumption.  An important unanswered question about LEDs is to what extent will these energy efficiency gains be offset by increased usage? Will households install more lighting now that the price per lumen has decreased? Will households leave their lights on more hours a day? Outdoor lighting, in particular, would seem particularly ripe for price-induced increases in consumption. These behavioral changes may take many years to manifest, as homeowners retrofit their outdoor areas to include additional lighting.

Conclusion

It is not clear yet whether U.S. household electricity use has indeed peaked or this is just a temporary reprieve. Probably the biggest unknown in the near future is electric vehicles. Currently only a small fraction of vehicles are EVs, but widespread adoption would significantly increase electricity demand. It is worth highlighting, though, that this would be substitution away from a different energy source (petroleum), so the implications are very different from most other energy services.

pexelsSource: Pexels.

Over a longer time horizon there will also be entirely new energy-using services that become available, including services that are not yet even imagined. The 10-fold increase in electricity consumption since 1950 reflects, to a large degree, that U.S. households now use electricity for many more things than they did in the past. The recent decrease is historic and significant, but over the long-run it would be a mistake to bet against our ability to consume more energy.

 

For more see Davis, Lucas W. “Evidence of a Decline in Electricity Use by U.S. Households,” Economics Bulletin, 2017, 37(2), 1098-1105.

About Lucas Davis

Lucas Davis is an Associate Professor of Economic Analysis and Policy at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on energy and environmental markets, and in particular, on electricity and natural gas regulation, pricing in competitive and non-competitive markets, and the economic and business impacts of environmental policy.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

66 Responses to Evidence of a Decline in Electricity Use by U.S. Households

  1. Pingback: Evidence of a Decline in Electricity Use by U.S. Households - Berkeley-Haas Insights

  2. Karen Street says:

    How important will increased air conditioning and water desalination be? By the late 2040s, it is likely that the majority of people will live in areas where the coldest year afterwards is hotter than the hottest year up to 2005. http://www.soc.hawaii.edu/mora/PublicationsCopyRighted/Cities%20Timing.html

    • Nathan says:

      Karen, according to your own link via the “data” tab, the worst scenario area along the equator would yield a rise in temps of 2-4 degrees Celsius. Most of the world’s population lives in the green/yellow areas where the author speculates a 1.5 degree rise as early as 2060, not 2040. In both cases it is very far from the 10 degree annual cycles we see from January to August. (Coldest season to hottest). To imply that our winter will soon be what “summer was” is alarmist.

      • Karen Street says:

        The analysis says that yearly temperatures where the majority of people live will be hotter by the late 2040s than their hottest year as of 2005. This does not mean that winter temperatures will be hotter than summer temperatures once were. Winter temperatures are rising faster than summer temperatures, but not that fast.

        According to the link, most people living in latitudes between north of New York City and south of Santiago will see what the authors describe as Climate Departure by the late 2040s.

  3. guythall says:

    Is there an impact from switching to natural gas. Did replacing electric hot water heaters and stove top cooking with gas impact the totals?

    • Lucas Davis says:

      I checked the 2009 and 2015 RECS. In 2009, 41.5% and 62.7% of Americans used electricity for water heating and cooking, respectively. In 2015, the numbers are 45.8% and 63.2%, respectively. So, according to RECS, *more* households are using electricity for these end uses than 6 years ago. I suspect this is due more to differential household growth in parts of the country where electricity is more commonly used for these end uses, rather than explicit substitution. But, bottom line, looks like this switching does not help explain the decline; if anything it should have pushed electricity consumption up.

      • Socal says:

        Do you have any estimates for what LEDs are doing in terms of aggregate annual load reduction. My very rough estimate for 2016 was 40 TWh. Do you have a number that’s more polished?

      • Socal says:

        P.S. Do you know of any data on demand for lighting by time of day that could be used to strengthen the case for LEDs driving the bus? I’ve found some interesting models of residential lighting demand but I’ve never found an hourly lighting profile that captured global (RC&I) usage.

        • Socal says:

          One of the other commenters had a link that leads to this document:

          https://energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2016/09/f33/energysavingsforecast16_2.pdf

          There’s a graph of energy use from 2015 to 2035 with and w/o LEDs… The with graph shows an LED driven drop in primary energy consumption of .192 Quads last year – that’s 18 TWh of electricity. The adoption rate is forecast to speed up with LEDs delivering around 25 TWh of savings in 2017. PV added ~15 GW last year… It’s hard to pro-rata out how much electricity was generated last year but in a full year you could expect 25ish TWh. Current PV forecasts have something like 13 GW getting installed in the US this year so it seems we have something of a horse race in front of us.

  4. Pingback: `Evidence of a decline in electricity use by U.S. households’ (Prof Lucas Davis, U.C. Berkeley) | Hypergeometric

  5. Mike MacCracken says:

    Another hypothesis: Depending on where you are getting your information, I’d note that the EIA data has mainly counted (or have until recently counted, as they may have recently changed) the solar electricity generated by rooftop systems on homes and businesses (officially, all systems less than 1 MW not connected to utility systems) as reduced electric demand rather than as electric power generated by solar PV systems. Until the recent change, this had led to solar being seen as less important than it has been while at the same time making homes seem more energy efficient.

    • Lucas Davis says:

      Indeed there has been a 10-fold increase in rooftop solar PV during this period, and these data (from EIA) are measured net of any on-site generation. So you are correct that this can help explain the decrease. However, U.S. solar installations are overwhelmingly concentrated in California, Hawaii, and a small handful of other states. What surprises me about the recent decrease is how uniform it has been across virtually all states, and rooftop solar cannot explain this.

      • Only two states with significant rooftop penetration are Hawaii and CA – in that order – and HI is much higher.

        These are both states which are the lowest users of electricity on your chart. CA was 2.34 and HI 2.19 in 2010. Much harder to show significant improvement when low-hanging fruit is probably already gone.

        That said, it does appear that Hawaii has been affected by rooftop as it dropped to 1.85 in 2015. Pretty substantial. CA dropped to 2.29 in 2015.

        By the way 2016 data is available – https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/current_year/february2017.pdf

        Using this data – we see a continued drop for both. HI to 1.83 and CA to 2.25.

  6. Prof. Davis indicated that income effect would have led to increase in electricity consumption. Income effect probably led to the purchase of more efficient appliances which reduced electricity consumption much more than the consumption levels associated with the period before the increases in income. Could this be indirect or cross income effect as the increase in income increased the consumption of efficient appliances that led to the fall in price of the substantive good (electricity)?
    Also Profs questions whether households will leave their outside lights on for longer periods. The increased lumens come with other behavior controlling technology such as motion and light sensors, thermostats and timers that make the increased lumens not stay on for longer periods than necessary. So could the “rebound effect” could be reduced or eliminated by technology?
    Finally, could an increase in EVs and alternative uses like domestic electric stove or even electric heating to replace petroleum, natural gas and other GHG emitting fuel sources will be addressing the fears of environmentalists and if driven by excellent technology could negate anticipated prices increases as the LED has done?

  7. Christopher Payne says:

    Interesting analysis. One thing that strikes me about a potential LED “rebound effect” is that we may see lighting used for different purposes than in the past. We have two examples of this already in the Bay Area: public art installations on the Bay Bridge and the new Salesforce Tower. Both use LEDs to create public art that would not have been feasible with other lighting technologies.

    I doubt we’re going to see a massive upswing in LED art installations that offsets the reduction you’ve identified, but these two examples are interesting cases of the expansion of the “utility” of LED lighting.

  8. Steve Huntoon says:

    Lucas,
    Thanks for writing on this important topic. My column from January provides data — present and future — confirming the importance of LED lighting. And its impact being much greater than rooftop solar. http://energy-counsel.com/docs/LED-Kills-the-Edison-Star-2017-01-24%20RTO-Insider-Individual-Column.pdf.
    BTW, I don’t see electric cars “riding” to the rescue of the utility industry. But that’s another topic…
    Best wishes,
    Steve Huntoon

    • Steve,
      Very nice. Thanks for this. Hope those LED numbers pan out.

      Looking forward to your comments on Electric cars. Will increased consumption from electric charging > decreased consumption from LED lighting?

      • Steve Huntoon says:

        Joe,
        Thanks. I too hope the LED forecasts pan out — LED really is a miracle in terms of consumer savings and reducing carbon emissions.
        Regarding electric cars, IMHO the value proposition isn’t here at current battery and oil prices. There is a niche market at the high end as Tesla has proved, but at the mass market level it will be a much tougher sell particularly with practical considerations like recharging time.
        If you’re interested in the value proposition, here’s an interesting study by University of Chicago and MIT professors, http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1257/jep.30.1.11.
        Best wishes,
        Steve

        • mcubedecon says:

          Here’s the correct citation: https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/jep.30.1.117

          I think the important point is “current.” A century and a half ago we could say the same things about coal vs. oil. Even into to the 1940s coal still held what seemed to be an insurmountable advantage in certain broad industries. The breakthrough in the diesel electric locomotive doomed the steam engine (and the combined cycle turbine doomed the steam generator). It’s hard to predict what will happen in the face of a dramatic technological innovation.

          • Ike Kiefer says:

            Coal was the dominant source of U.S. primary energy throughout WWII and was only overtaken by oil in 1950. Diesel-electric traction engines were an evolutionary development that began before 1920. The transition was slowed during WWII because liquid fuels, being more energy-dense and easily handled, were prioritized to the military, while coal was locked-in for the duration for domestic industrial and residential roles. The end of the war allowed the nation to catch up suddenly to the natural, pre-existing trend.

            Not sure what you mean by “the combined cycle turbine doomed the steam generator.”
            Today there are Brayton cycle combustion turbines in natural gas power plants that run by themselves to generate power in a single-cycle plant, and other Brayton cycle turbines whose hot exhaust is used to generate steam in a heat recovery steam generator which then powers an additional Rankine cycle steam turbine for additional generation output. Steam generators are alive and well in combined-cycle power plants and nuclear power plants. The turbines in these plants are each either dedicated to combustion or steam, not both.

          • mcubedecon says:

            “Steam generators” in electric utility parlance are direct-fired boilers with steam turbines. Combine cycle plants are not considered steam generators, although they use heat recovery steam generators to improve efficiency. It is this revolutionary configuration that ended the use of natural-gas fired steam generators, and are now pressuring coal-fired steam generators into early retirement. As for nuclear plants, they also are threatened with extinction in the U.S. with the closure of SONGS, the planned closure of Diablo Canyon in 2025 and the bankruptcy of Westinghouse due to nuclear plant cost overruns.

            (I’m not sure what you say about coal and diesel electric locomotives contradicts what I say, other than D-E was revolutionary compared to steam engines.)

          • Ike Kiefer says:

            I’m in the electric utility business. A steam generator is a specific component in a multi-cycle system where a heat exchanger transfers thermal energy from a primary loop to produce steam in a secondary loop. Nuclear power plants and combined-cycle Brayton-Rankin plants have them. The SG in HRSG is for steam generator as you pointed out. A boiler in a simple-cycle steam system is just a boiler.

            The link you provided on GDP had no evidence, just opinion. I find the opinion that the U.S. is better off because the rest of the world is in even worse straits to be of little comfort, and of no relevance to whether one GDP methodology is better than another. The author seems to be focused on hyperinflation, but the threat of debt-based economic collapse (U.S. or global) is not inflationary, but deflationary.

            I was curious to see how you would respond to the EIA load predictions. You make a good point about dubious government statistics. I am actually a fierce and outspoken critic of EIA predictions, as they have a horrible track record, as you point out. The underlying NEMS model is complex but apparently a giant GIGO machine run by folks who can’t learn from decades of mistakes. In contrast, and as another commenter pointed out, historical EIA data is judged by the energy community to be pretty solid. I believe that U.S. residential load is going to rebound in spite of the fact that EIA predictions agree with me. Maybe that explains the apparent irony.

            As one of my colleagues has said, “California was born on third base and claims it hit a home run.” Many people look at energy per capita and confuse that with energy efficiency. The simple fact that California residents generally enjoy the fewest heating and cooling degree days in the nation causes them to appear more energy efficient. California also being one of the few states that has a long-standing increasing block price for electricity is also a driver of exceptional consumer behavior. Both of these result in conservation (reduced demand for energy services), rather than energy efficiency (increased energy service per unit of energy). Poverty also drives conservation, not efficiency. One must have disposable income or subsidies to become more energy efficient by upgrading housing and appliances. This is another reason why EE and load reduction should be happening more in CA and less in the southeast, and why another mechanism is necessary to explain the reverse phenomenon.

            I appreciate you engaging in discussion. We should know by the end of 2018 if rebound is happening.

          • mcubedecon says:

            Being in the electric utility industry, you also know that “steam generator” is short hand for a simple cycle boiler steam turbine unit. (Many terms pull double duty.)

            I provided one of many critiques of ShadowStats that I came across. I can spend a lot of time and space here demonstrating the lack of credibility of that source, but I think you need to now provide more than assertions to back up your point.

            You offered the EIA forecasts as proof of your position. Now you’ve fallen back to an unsubstantiated “feeling” about future residential growth. (And I agree that government empirical data is pretty solid, which is why I find ShadowStats unreliable. I can’t understand your cherry picking of data.)

            I agree in general with your points about California–much more of the energy use reductions are price driven than the EE advocates would like to acknowledge. However that doesn’t mean that the EE technologies that California has develop in response to rising prices don’t spread to other states that lag in adoption. Penetration of rooftop solar PV is but one example where a technology that was too costly is now affordable in many other places in part because California was on the leading edge of adoption.

            As for an electricity use rebound, it’s likely to be temporary, just as it was after 2001.

  9. Jai Mitchell says:

    It should be noted that studies of low-income energy efficiency program operations with installed meters indicate, at most, a 9% rebound (also called ‘takeback’) in energy use. This sector is expected to have the greatest rebound effect since self-rationing prior to program work creates a big driver. The installation of heat pump water heaters and mini-split heat pumps, as well as constant improvements in rooftop heatpump and air conditioner efficiencies is also a big driver, as are building codes for better insulation and higher-efficiency window products.

  10. Rich Sextro says:

    I am surprised and puzzled you don’t specifically take note of what has happened in California over the past several decades (since the early 1970’s) in terms of electricity consumption per capita – it has been essentially flat over that time period (dubbed the Rosenfeld effect or Rosenfeld curve). In fact, you wrote a post on this forum in 2013 on this topic: https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/deconstructing-the-rosenfeld-curve/ where you discuss the residential sector. This effect has been discussed and analyzed fairly extensively and, at least from where I sit, it seems like its the result of a combination of things – policies and early technology adoption – key among others. Some have argued that demographics and ‘temperate climate’ are explanatory, but I think Bob Clear’s analysis at the end of your 2013 post argues that isn’t likely the case.

    Your concluding remarks in this post seem to entirely ignore the CA experience (which again is decades long – so plenty of time for new electricity uses and new electricity efficiencies to have an influence). I note that CA’s nearest neighbor in your second chart is NY with about the same per capita residential electricity consumption. I couldn’t find ‘quickly’ (meaning 30 minutes) any data on the trends in NY residential electricity consumption per capita (time series) – but both CA and NY have strong energy ‘commissions’ (e.g., CEC, NYSERDA) and fairly aggressive energy efficiency policies. That might make an interesting comparative analysis.

    In my search for NY data, I did find the following from EIA https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=3590 which shows that TOTAL residential energy consumption per capita in the US has been flat since the early-1970’s (a trend I find a bit surprising in the aggregate). Again, it would seem a mixture of ‘off-setting’ trends – new, but more energy efficient end-uses and ‘fuel’ switching to account for increased electricity use in those states where the per capita trend hasn’t flattened. Looks to me like there’s a buncha PhD dissertations floating around in all this… if for no other reason that to cut down on data-free speculation.

  11. An_Economist says:

    I guessed at what the yearly values are in your first graph and reproduced the approximation with the Y-axis (electricity use per capita measured in MWhs) scaled at 0 rather than starting at slightly less than 3.6 MWhs per capita. The well-pronounced curve in your graph looks a whole lot less impressive when the scaling changes. The downward trend looks to have started in 2007 with an upward spike in 2010 before resuming the downward path again in 2011 with a large decline in 2012.

    You indicate there is a 10-fold increase in the 61 years from 1950 to 2010 which is a 4% annual increase. Assuming that the 2010 value is approximately 4.7 MWh per capita would mean the 1950 figure is about .434 MWh per capita. Since the 1990 figure looks to be about 3.75 MWh that would mean an annual growth of nearly 5.4% between 1950 and 1990. The growth between 1990 and 2010 is only about 1.1% annually. From 2011 to 2015, there was some decline in 2011 that looks similar to year over year fluctuations that happen at other times in the period covered (for example, 1996 to 1997 or 2005 to 2006, 2007 to 2008 or 2008 to 2009). The big decline occurred in 2012 and usage has trended up in 2013 and 2014 before experiencing a decline in 2015. All the values between 2012 and 2015 look similar to year-to-year variation that is evident at other periods in the graph.

    It doesn’t appear to me that the combination of CFL and LED bulbs can explain this. In fact, 2009 to 2010 appears to be the largest single-year positive change in MWhs per capita in the 21 years covered in the graph. It seems like a strong assumption that the average use of ALL lights is 3 hours per day. As more lights become CFL or LED that would seem to mean that the saturation is starting to go more from high use lights like those in the living room towards lights in kitchens and hallways that are going to get way less than 3 hours of daily use.

  12. Azmat says:

    I had thought that average household size [millenials moving back with parents] might have an effect; but find that the average has stayed at 2.53-2.56 between 2006/2016.

    Seems like greater household/ rooftop solar would be a significant factor.

    Maybe a look at household / per capita energy consumption would be a place to look at to include impact of switching from electric to gas cooking. Eating out may reduce home energy consumption – i see that grocery store sales [nationwide] dropped for the first time in many years [perhaps first time ever]

    • Jason Burwen says:

      I agree average household size could be a factor. Looks like average HH size declined 2% from 2010 to 2015 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/183648/average-size-of-households-in-the-us/)–which is roughly the magnitude reduction 2010-2015 from hypothetical LED energy savings cited in this article.

      • David Brightwell says:

        Wouldn’t a decrease in average household size lead to an increase in per capita usage? If the numerator stays the same but the denominator decreases, use per capita should increase not decrease. Also, if millennials are moving out and occupying previously unoccupied premises, wouldn’t the additions of lights, refrigeration, etc. add to the numerator?

  13. Kevin Swartz says:

    Not sure how big of an impact this has, but we have been moving away from CRT/plasma TV’s to LED as well.

  14. Guy Hall says:

    I thought I left this post already. Well to redo it….

    EV adoptions are on a rise. To consider their impact:
    Average EV runs 3.5 miles / kWh.
    Assume 1,000 miles / month for BEVs and 500 miles electric only / month for PHEVs with a 50/50 mix.
    Assume 80% of charge at home
    Load: ((1000 + 500) / 2) / 3.5 * 80% = 171 kWh per month per average vehicle.
    Ignores line and conversion losses.

  15. Ike Kiefer says:

    U.S. residential power rates have been rising faster than CPI since 2005. Only other time this was true in history was late 70’s early 80’s during similar subsidized RE push. If you believe shadowstats.com more than BLS (I do), then CPI has been consistently under-reported since mid 1980s, real wages (for those employed) have been flat, true unemployment (measured the same way it was for great depression) is today still north of 20%, and GDP has been shrinking since 2001 due to de-industrialization. In this macroeconomic environment, one would expect to see a decline in electricity usage regardless of efficiency, and the largest declines in the most rural and impoverished areas. Whereas, if the decline was due only to increasing efficiency, the decline should be in the wealthier areas where there is faster appliance turnover and more disposable income to spend on expensive energy efficiency upgrades like rooftop solar, geothermal heat systems, CFL and LED lighting upgrades, smart thermostats, home networking, etc. When the data clearly show southern states leading the decline, it is clear which case is more likely true.

  16. Ike Kiefer says:

    Thoughtful article and comments above. For your consideration.

    U.S. residential power rates have been rising faster than CPI since 2005. Only other time this was true in history was late 70’s early 80’s during similar subsidized RE push. If you believe shadowstats(dot)com more than BLS (I do), then CPI has been consistently under-reported since mid 1980s, real wages (for those employed) have been flat, true unemployment (measured the same way it was for great depression) is today still north of 20%, and GDP has been shrinking since 2001 due to de-industrialization. In this macroeconomic environment, one would expect to see a decline in electricity usage regardless of efficiency, and the largest declines in the most rural and impoverished areas. Whereas, if the decline was due only to increasing efficiency, the decline should be in the wealthier areas where there is faster appliance turnover and more disposable income to spend on expensive energy efficiency upgrades like rooftop solar, geothermal heat systems, CFL and LED lighting upgrades, smart thermostats, home networking, etc. When the data clearly show southern states leading the decline in electricity consumption, it is much more likely that we are seeing the effects of rising energy poverty rather than a watershed reversal of Jevons’ Paradox. Rising energy poverty, particularly in electricity, has also hit the UK, Spain, Italy, Greece, Denmark, and Germany. Would be silly to think USA is the exception. This is damage largely self-inflicted by aggressive, expensive, yet ineffectual western government policies enacted in the name of affecting the Earth’s climate.

      • Ike Kiefer says:

        That is a very thoughtful critique by Ed Dolan, and I agree with him that Williams overstates inflation considerably. But, it is important to note that he ultimately argues to correct Williams value, not to CPI-U, but to 2.45% above CPI-U. Even a value 2% above CPI-U reverses GDP growth to GDP decline from 2001 to 2015. Dolan does not here attack Williams’ unemployment statistic.

        I would criticize Dolan’s attempt to reconstruct GDP using raw counts of car purchases. This industry has been heavily off-shored during this time, preferences have shifted from domestic to imports, purchases have lost ground to leases, and private and public debt has exploded. Any calculation or historical reconstruction of GDP also needs to back out the increasing fraction of overhead costs (not productivity) that the financial and government sectors represent.

        Do you have any critique on the substance of my comment in regards to explaining why the consumption reductions are weighted toward poorer states. Is this not the exact opposite of what should be expected if it was due to technology turnover to more efficient devices? I’m not arguing that efficiency gains are not happening, but that rising energy poverty is the more dominant force. We have objective metrics of price and wages to make the energy poverty case.

        • mcubedecon says:

          I found other critiques of ShadowStats GDP estimates as well, but I’m not going to engage in the validity of a website that clearly has substantial credibility problems. My point is if it is so bad on just one point, why should we trust it on others. You need to bring more supporting evidence than simple assertions to back up this set of alternative facts. (And while I use that pejorative term, you may in fact have supporting evidence, but you haven’t presented it.)

          As for the CPI measurement debate, there are many views on what’s a valid approach due to the problem of defining the “market basket.”

          On energy efficiency gains, we expect that technology rollout lags in poorer areas, but not that they don’t happen at all. It just means that we can expect to see the efficiency gains in those states later than in the wealthier states. That California is an early adopter and that its gains are smaller in the more recent years is consistent with that.

          • Ike Kiefer says:

            Had to dig through two paragraphs of scorn to find your answer. So you believe the reason for the disparity between poor and rich states is due to early adoption v. slower adoption of EE tech. That would be plausible if efficiency was a step function rather than a continuous one where everyone is moving on their portion of the continuum simultaneously. However, CA and NY are still avant-garde in energy policy, pricing, residential solar adoption, and other things that should be accelerating their efficiency gains compared to the American Southeast. Interesting that EIA, like me, is predicting rebound in national residential electricity consumption. Their prediction for 2018 is an increase larger than the decline in 2016 and 2017 ( p. 18 of just published STEO https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/steo/pdf/steo_full.pdf ). Doesn’t fit your theory or preconceptions. Will you also dismiss this?

          • mcubedecon says:

            Ike, here’s another critique of the GDP measure in ShadowStats. There are many more on the web: http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com/2012/05/gdp-real-gdp-and-shadowstats-theater-of.html

            I don’t understand your point about EE being a step function. As the easiest, cheapest measures are adopted, as they have been in California, the states that haven’t yet adopted those measures can make bigger gains relative to California in future years. California has been in the cutting edge for 40 years, which gives plenty of room for lagging states to be coming up from behind.

            As for EIA forecast, that agency ALWAYS forecasts load growth. Here’s the 2013 Annual Energy Outlook that forecasts continued growth. https://www.eia.gov/outlooks/aeo/pdf/0383(2013).pdf And this from the Feb 2015 STEO: “Electricity Generation. EIA forecasts that U.S. electricity generation will grow by an average of 1.0% 2015 and 0.9% 2016.”

            (And I find it ironic that you criticize government sources for empirical data, but then turn to government data for a forecast…)

          • kelvinsdemon says:

            Data in EIA reports are probably trustworthy. Their predictions are rubbish. At the time the FPC became the FERC, some of us including myself were offered the opportunity to join the EIA.
            I decided not to do so when one of the representatives of the management warned against short term forecasts, because they could too easily be shown to be wrong!

  17. Pingback: Revue des blogs – mardi 9 mai 2017 – Veille énergie climat

  18. Andrew Warren says:

    Interesting article, although it is curious that it omits any references at all to the efficiency of the building fabric. Better insulation of walls, attics, floors, plus effective weatherisation of doors plus low emissivity glazing : all these make homes not just more comfortable, but less gas guzzling.

    • mcubedecon says:

      However, the point of this blog is that building stock turnover is so slow that these changes cannot explain the magnitude of the usage reductions.

      • Andrew Warren says:

        Overall, energy efficiency building refurbishment each year saves more energy that new construction , particularly if the vacated older home continues to be lived in.

        • mcubedecon says:

          That’s true, but refurbishment is progressing at a slow rate. This elements needs much more emphasis and support by energy efficiency programs. There have been several posts on this blog about this issue.

  19. Declining energy consumption is a phenomenon throughout the OECD and is consistent with increasing deployment and use of a range of energy efficient devices domestically, commercially and industrially. Documented falls in electricity consumption have also being occurring across Europe and the UK.

    As with other OECD markets, in Australia, electricity consumption has also been falling since 2008, and while some changes are undoubtedly a consequence of structural adjustments in the economy through changes in manufacturing, the largest change can be attributed to efficiency. Within the residential market, the largest gains in Australian homes (where cooling, not heating, is the primary issue) is greatly improved efficiency of refrigerators and reverse-cycle air conditioners. While white goods do have an average life of 10 years, the greatest recent energy efficiency gains arose from energy efficiency standards rolled out in Europe and the US in the early 2000s, the impacts of which emerged from factories by the mid 2000s. Given the average of 10 years, around half of white goods are likely to have been replaced up to 2016.

    And of course the advent of compact fluorescents and now LED globes has also had an impact (Australia’s phase out of incandescent globes started in 2009.)

    The downward trend in Australia has been further enhanced by the massive addition of solar on homes in Australia since 2010 reducing on-grid demand through self-production – more than 1 in 5 homes in Australia now has solar PV, and still growing.

  20. heresy101 says:

    While the results of this article are true, the measure of electric use per capita seems misleading.
    A better index of electric usage would be total usage divided by housing units less vacancy if you can’t get actual customer/meter data from utilities.

    We have seen our residential usage follow the 2000-2015 pattern in the first graph over the last twenty years, as have other utilities in CA. The number of customers (meters) continues to increase but the average usage per meter decreases. The size of the households varies from the single occupant to multiple families per house and doesn’t necessarily correlate with electric usage.

    The adoption of LEDs has led to a large part of the usage decline. Included in this transition is the switch from CRTs (monitors & TVs) to LED monitors and LED TVs. A 55″ LED TV is rated at about 135 kWh per year, which is about 25 kWh more than a 60 watt incandescent burning 5 hours per day.

    The number of EVs will continue to increase and increase electric usage. Part of this increase will be selling to a retail customer at night rather than selling energy at a loss. Depending on how fast storage will be adopted, there might even be a 13:00-17:00 duck curve charging periods for EVs.

    A very large factor that is missed is the impact of the government. Yes, I know that economists think that the government can’t do anything and it is the magical market that causes all change. But, higher codes and standards lower electricity mandates for energy usage by new devices has a very large impact on energy use. When your 5/10/15 year old washer/refrigerator/dishwasher/TV/cable box dies, the new one that you buy will use less energy than your old item even if the least expensive item is purchased. Many of the more high priced items (eg Bosch) have even lower energy usage.

  21. Pingback: 9 Mayıs 2017 – EAK – Enerjide Günlük Notlar

  22. Pingback: Grâce aux LED, la consommation électrique diminue aux Etats-Unis – EcoGuide Eclairage

  23. Pingback: Warming Trend - Framing Climate Change as a Faith/Spirituality Issue - PAUL DOUGLAS

  24. amory2014 says:

    It’s odd to omit the cumulative effects—more gradual than LED uptake, to be sure, but improving over many years—of rising home-appliance efficiency standards and, in about half the states, significantly more stringent building-efficiency standards. Of course, electrical savings are also widespread in the commercial and industrial sectors. The collective all-sectors effect is discussed in a recent blog with interesting references hyperlinked:

    “Why Are We Saving Electricity Only Half As Fast As Fuels?,” Forbes blog, 25 Apr 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/amorylovins/2017/04/25/why-are-we-saving-electricity-only-half-as-fast-as-fuels/

    — Amory B. Lovins, Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute

    • vtgranda says:

      I agree with both Prof. Lucas and Amory on this point. According to the available data, the rate of replacement of incandescent lighting by either LEDs or CFLs has been extremely fast when compared to other residential technologies. However, similar if slower trends can be observed across the spectrum of home appliances with significant impacts on electricity consumption. Televisions, refrigerators, clothes washers, and air conditioners have all become significantly more energy efficient over the study period, driven by energy efficiency standards. It’s worth noting that these product categories had all reached close to full residential penetration by 1990, meaning that increasing the efficiency of new models would tend to reduce the total consumption of the installed base. Similarly, consumers are steadily switching from desktop computers to laptop computers for non-regulatory reasons, and shedding kilowatthours as they do so.

      Large potential for continued efficiency improvements remain, also in lighting. The Dept of Energy almost finished a rule-making for general service lighting prior to the last presidential election that would have established a minimum standard of over 90 lumens per watt (lpw), would have covered most light bulbs, and would have come into effect in 2020. For comparison, a halogen bulb today is around 20 lpw and CFLs and current LEDs are in the 60-80 lpw range. That standard is unlikely to be completed in the near future, but it only reflects where the market is already heading. My organization put out a report last year that reviews analyses of this remaining potential. https://appliance-standards.org/document/next-generation-standards-how-national-energy-efficiency-program-can-continue-drive-energy.

      Chris Granda, Sr. Researcher/Advocate – Appliance Standards Awareness Project

  25. According to EIA, household energy consumption indicates an average annual drop of 1% per year for the period 1980 – 2009 or a reduction in residential end use energy intensity of 37% over the same period.
    While this major drop in energy intensity is due to a host of factors including weather, energy pricing and population geographical shift, it is primarily due to the introduction of energy efficient technologies and policies as well as standards, building codes, incentives, and labeling. The reduction in energy intensity have occurred despite significant increase over this period in US population and number of households, increase in home size and significant increase in the use of lighting and electronics.
    According to the EIA, homes built during the period 2000 – 2009 in comparison to homes built before 2000 consume roughly 2% more energy on average despite the fact that homes built after 2000 are 30% larger on average. This low increase in new homes energy consumption is explained by improved housing structure thermal integrity, significant end use energy efficiency improvement, despite significant increase in end use energy consumption of particularly air conditioning as well as electronics and lighting as the following graph shows.
    What inferences can be drawn with regard to household energy consumption in the future? Lower energy intensity translates into lower marginal cost of heating as well as cooling in both the short and long run. Weatherization improvements alone have the potential to reduce the heating and cooling loads required by a typical home by 30% or better for homes built after 2000. Conventional space heating particularly natural gas fired have an efficiency rating exceeding 90% while air conditioning being installed today has an EER of 12 as compared to an EER of 6 or less in the 1990’s translating into requiring half the electricity to deliver the same cooling load. All in all, these major savings have been captured to a degree to date. US homes have the potential to significantly exceed the energy savings sustained to date.
    Several key factors have the potential to help this negative electricity demand growth trend to continue and accelerate: 1) continued weatherization programs of public housing and rental properties particularly housing structures of 1980 and earlier, 2) electricity price and its share of disposable income, and 3) penetration of solar PV. If we are to consider, in addition, further penetration of the technologies of the past decade such as heat pump, geothermal, LED, etc., the potential is there for even greater savings.

  26. Pingback: Pielke on Climate #2 | The Climate Fix

  27. kelvinsdemon says:

    I carpooled to work seven miles away for some years, bicycled for 14, gave that p when a motorist hit my front wheel after running a red light for six lanes, and finally used Metro. I wonder how mud pollution could be saved in particular by car pooling.

  28. kelvinsdemon says:

    How much, I wonder, has consumption switched from electicity to gas?

  29. Pingback: U.S. electricity use is declining - but will it last? - Granite Geek

  30. Pingback: How LEDs are Affecting the U.S. Economy - Sitler's LED Supplies

  31. Jardinero1 says:

    The states with the greatest improvements in per capita efficiency are also the states with the highest population growth and the most new construction in all forms; residential, commercial and industrial. New construction, typically, is built to a higher energy efficiency standard than the existing stock.

  32. Anonymous says:

    What about heat switching from heat pump to gas?

  33. vtgranda says:

    Relating to the fuel-switching questions, if anything I believe we continue to see continued mild electrification of residential energy consumption, including for HVAC. Slightly more homes heat water with natural gas than electricity, but the rate of growth of electric water heating has been stronger than for gas.

  34. Good article. I’d add another factor. CRTs used with TVs and computers have been almost completely replaced by more efficient displays. The screens are often larger, but is the energy consumption less? Perhaps.

  35. vtgranda says:

    NRDC testing suggests that more efficient TV technology is being outweighed by increased screen size. TV energy use may also be up because people weren’t getting rid of their old CRT TVs, just moving them to another room when they got the new flat screen. Recent surveying suggests that the number of TVs per household is now dropping after having risen for many years https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=30132. There is also problems with the DOE TV test procedure which means we aren’t getting good data on consumption of flat screen sets.

  36. Tom Kennedy says:

    When I see a story like this by a supposed learned PHD Economist, I wince. What happened to our education system for someone with a PHD to write something so stupid. Electricity use will continue to expand on a per household basis. Flat spots in trends no more predict the future than bones and feathers used by witch doctors.

    In the last 10 years the energy increases due to smartphones and the infrastructure that supports them has increased to be more than all the energy use of global aviation. Some seem to be convinced that soon electric cars (Coal powered) will dominate transportation. Even if only a fraction of predicted electric cars happen – electricity demand will soar.

    Electricity demand has risen steadily since Edison first powered New York City. Every few years some fool claims demand has peaked. “Only minor increases in electricity consumption will occur in the future.” the Union of Concerned Scientists told us in the 1980s.

    I guess since the “peak oil” trope has been exposed so called experts are moving on to other ridiculous predictions.

  37. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think there is too much cause for caution in regard to the downturn in electricity consumption. USA figures are really only just tracking a trend in pretty well all long-established developed countries. While not discounting the lighting effect, neither would I overplay it nor be too concerned about the dreaded rebound. While the effect, due to rapidly felt disruption of old bulb replacement, is sooner noticeable, the impact of higher efficiencies in most appliances will be enduring and more profound, as those appliances have generally consumed more power than has lighting. Neither do I expect a comparable rebound to that of the transition from gas/oil/kerosene lamps to electric, because lighting over the intervening century had already diminished to an almost negligible proportion of the household budget. Imagine the days of coin-fed gas meters, when poorer people had to seriously weigh up: another penny for an hour of light, or an early night. It’s almost as unimaginable as the idea of the French and Russian (Feb) revolutions being triggered by respectively the price and availability of bread. In the former case, a loaf – but they were humungous – could cost half a journeyman’s weekly wage. Before compact flourescents, the cost of old fluorescent and even incandescent lighting never sent us to the barricades or even inclined us much to turn off the kitchen light while we went to clean our teeth… or to clean our teeth at the kitchen sink (gross). Now that most of us have acquired about as much of everything as we could practically use, we are inclined to focus more on quality, which tends to entail greater efficiency. It’s really in the developing world where we can expect a continued rise in consumption. Even there, we can reasonably hope that they won’t necessarily repeat all our mistakes, and they won’t need to trace our path through our old inefficient technologies. I notice that Chinese electricity consumption, after a couple of decades of high growth, is flattening off, growing now more slowly than the economy, and likely to turn down within a few years. By the time African growth becomes substantial in world terms, I expect that all its new power will be renewable and all Africans’ new appliances and vehicles will be efficient.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s