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U.S. Homes are Using Less Energy, Even as They Use More Gadgets

U.S. homes are using more electronic appliances and other technologies than ever before, including big-screen entertainment centers, powerful computers, power-hungry game consoles and gadgets that need to be constantly recharged. However, something unexpected is happening. Demand for electricity in U.S. homes is leveling off.

From 1980 to 2000, residential electricity demand grew by about 2.5 percent a year. From 2000 to 2010, growth slowed to about 2 percent a year. But over the next ten years, experts predict residential electricity use will decline by about 0.5 percent a year, reversing a trend of increasing electricity consumption that began when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.

Energy demand from commercial customers, including factories and businesses, is still expected to grow 0.7 percent a year, at least through 2035. But that’s significantly less than the average growth of 2.5 percent a year over the past four decades.

In the long term, the adoption of energy-efficient alternatives to the incandescent light bulb is playing a big part in energy conservation at home, as well as the rapid expansion of state and federal energy efficiency programs. The federal stimulus program set aside $11 billion for local energy-efficiency programs, while 28 states have passed laws requiring public utilities to help customers use less electricity.

The implementation of energy-efficiency standards by all sorts of appliance and device manufacturers is also a significant contributor to energy savings at home. For example, refrigerators in the 1970s used 2000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year. New models built today use just 500 kilowatt-hours a year. New TVs, washing machines, air conditioners and even new homes are being built to use less electricity.

In the short term, a poor economy and high gas prices are resulting in some energy-saving behavioral changes at home, including raising the thermostat in the summer and lowering it in the winter.

What might make home electricity demand rise again? Experts say the widespread adoption of electric cars could do the trick, as well as the adoption of power-hungry devices that haven’t caught on or have yet to be imagined.

Ed White, vice president of customer and business strategy for National Grid, a gas and electric utility that serves markets on the East Coast, said that the leveling off of electricity demand by U.S. homes is a good thing, regardless of the reason. “Some do it for green reasons, some for money,” White said. “We don’t care why they are doing it, as long as they are doing it.”


“Shocker: Power Demand from U.S. Homes is Falling,” KHOU-TV, Sept. 7, 2011.

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