United States makes huge gains in energy efficiency

Total energy use in the United States declined by 1 per cent in 2019, partially reversing a significant increase in 2018, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Data recently released by the Energy Information Administration reveals that energy savings were spread across every economic sector (homes, commercial buildings, industry, and transportation), but were mostly in electricity produced by coal, along with a small decline in oil use for transportation.

This data precedes the COVID-19 pandemic, and a more significant drop is expected when 2020 data is released at this time next year.

The ACEEE also reveals that if energy use had grown as rapidly as gross domestic product since 1980, it would have been about 220 quadrillion BTUs (quads) last year. Based on studies looking at the different factors involved, ACEEE estimates that energy efficiency accounts for about 60 per cent of the difference between the 100 quads of actual consumption and 220 quads if past patterns had continued. Structural changes, such as shifts toward a more service-oriented economy account for the other 40 per cent. 

In other words, energy efficiency over the past three decades is reducing energy use by about 70 quads each year (and growing) – a gigantic achievement. To put this in perspective, this is about the same as the combined annual energy use of Japan, Germany, India, and the United Kingdom.

U.S. energy consumption has barely changed over the past 15 years despite significant economic growth that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic.Energy use has fluctuated only modestly from year to year, while the gross domestic product has increased 32 per cent since 2004 (in inflation-adjusted dollars). 

Although population has increased steadily over the past 40 years, total U.S. energy use has barely changed since 2000. Per-capita energy use declined 13 per cent from 2000 to 2009, and has held steady since then. These figures are not adjusted for weather and economic growth, which are factors in variations from year to year.

In the residential sector, consumption trended upward until 2010 but has been level or a bit lower since then. As a result, consumption per household has generally declined since 2000. Efficiency improvements to homes and home appliances have contributed greatly to this trend.

In the commercial sector, building floor area has increased during this period, but as building efficiency has increased, consumption per square foot of floor area has declined since peaking in 1999.

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