Energy use drops: It’s not just the economy

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By Elisa Wood

May 13, 2010

We’ve been hearing a lot about a drop in energy consumption as a result of the economic downturn. In fact, US energy use per person declined last year to its lowest level since 1968.

Economic activity and energy use are directly linked. But lately, several reports have noted that the economic slowdown is not the only reason energy consumption is falling. Aggressive energy efficiency efforts also have impact.

That impact will be “major” in the years to come, according to the Energy Information Administration, the chief energy data collector for the US government. The agency this week released its “Annual Energy Outlook 2010” with projections to 2035.

The federal report shows us decreasing energy use significantly if we employ best available efficiency technologies over the next 25 years – that is if we buy the most energy efficient appliances and build homes to the highest efficiency standards. Under this scenario, energy consumption could drop by as much as 27%. But if we stick to the status quo, homeowners will increase energy use by about 0.2%.

This drop in energy use will not happen immediately. In fact, EIA sees energy consumption rising slightly as the economy rebounds. It then begins fall in 2013 as higher efficiency standards take effect for vehicles and lighting.

Lighting standards will have the most profound impact on electric consumption. Federal requirements will reduce electricity used for lights by 30% in 2014. When the standards tighten further in 2020, power use for lighting drops 60%.  Overall, by 2035 our lights should eat up 44% less electricity than in 2008.

This drop in energy consumption does not signal austerity. On the contrary, our use of electric devices is growing. The EIA sees us increasing our use of computers, household appliances, water heaters, stoves, heat, air conditioning and microwaves. And for the first time this year we’ll direct more of our electricity into television watching than food refrigeration.

So it appears the predictions of today’s energy efficiency advocates may be correct: the economy can reduce energy consumption without sacrificing creature comforts.

The compete EIA report is here.

Visit Elisa Wood at and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.