Americans have been taking energy efficiency seriously in recent years, as US residential energy consumption has fallen for the third year in a row according to the Energy Information Administration. Residential power consumption has now fallen to 2001 levels, and available indicators suggest the slide will continue. There are several elements in the home energy market that are influencing the decline, and the trend is likely to be a factor in future utilities planning.
Any discussion of power use in the United States today has to begin with the subject of energy efficiency. Increased energy efficiency is by far the simplest, most cost-effective method for reducing consumption, making it the go-to solution for leaders from both political parties for several decades. As far back as the Nixon Administration, the federal government has encouraged improved energy efficiency; although, these efforts have met with limited success until recently.
With improved technology for insulation, heightened public awareness, and a determined legislative effort to encourage lower energy consumption, the United States has finally begun to roll back consumption at the end-user stage. Of these efforts, the greatest success has been through the judicious actions of national and state legislatures to incentivize conservation.
All across the United States, energy efficiency programs have seen tighter standards being set for new construction. Billions of dollars were earmarked from the Recovery Act to be put toward refitting existing construction with new insulation, double-pane windows, and solar panels that have successfully taken some strain off of local energy grids. Public/private partnerships in some cities have encouraged the planting of shade trees to cut home cooling costs, and utilities workers across the country have participated in public awareness campaigns to encourage users to better manage their consumption.
Rising energy prices throughout the last decade also fueled the drive for energy efficiency. Much of US electricity comes from coal-fired plants, and the price of coal has been rising for several years. Between 2000 and 2013, the price of coal nearly doubled, from $18.91 per short ton to $32.56. This can't help but drive up energy prices nationwide and provide a real incentive to energy users to cut consumption wherever possible.
The improved energy efficiency of the United States is one of the great success stories of domestic policy over the last decade. Lower consumption reduces the demand for new facilities as the population grows. While the United States is still far from carbon neutral, the recent gains give hope that energy efficiency is a realizable policy goal for the industry.
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