Machine Design

U.S. is using less electricity

Eletricity use has remained flat over the past few years due to factors that include more efficient production processes, better insulated housing, and the increased use of renewable energy sources such as solar panels.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency's latest Annual Energy Outlook says electricity use in the U.S. has remained relatively flat over the past few years and probably will remain that was through 2015, after which the Agency expects growth to resume at historical rates of nearly 1%.

Specifically, EIA says total sales of electricity in the U.S. have dropped in four of the past five years. The only year-over-year rise in electricity use since 2007 happened as the country emerged from recession in 2010.

EIA attributes the flattening of total electricity sales to several factors, only a few of which have much to do with better energy efficiency. EIA says electricity sales to the residential sector accounted for 36% of all electricity use in 2012, up from 33% in 2000. In 2010, year-over-year residential sales rose 6% and subsequently declined 5% over the following two years, though the housing industry began to recover in those years. The Agency says better appliance energy standards probably had an impact on residential energy use, but so did weather patterns, which affect electricity demand for home heating and cooling. It also says other trends such as shifts in population and changes in housing square footage and type (i.e., from single-family homes to apartments) have an impact on residential electricity use.

Sales of power to commercial buildings have risen about 1% annually since 2000 and accounted for 35% of electricity use in 2012, EIA says. Factors that tended to keep demand flat include weather patterns as well as standards to improve efficiency for lighting and space heating.

Industrial uses of electricity dropped by 9% between 2000 and 2012, and EIA figures the sector's share of total electricity usage fell from 30% to 26% in that period. The Agency says that industrial uses of electricity have always been sensitive to economic conditions, and the sector saw a sharp 10% year-over-year fall in electricity use during the 2009 recession. Efficiency improvements in production processes have contributed to declining energy sales. But since 2010 this trend has been offset by rises in production and exports, driven by low natural gas prices, among other things.

The Agency also thinks growth in solar panel capacity and other types of distributed generation have helped dampen electricity sales, but says the impact is difficult to measure because residential and commercial solar electricity generation data are not readily available. 

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