Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Energy Implications Of Our Connected Lifestyle

The first U.S. energy efficiency standards were adopted by the Energy Department in the 1980s and they have proven exceptionally effective in cutting consumption in the targeted appliances. For example, DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reported last year that the average new refrigerator in 2010 used only 44 percent of the energy consumed by a comparable new unit in 1985. As a result, LBNL said: “Nationally, in 2010 refrigerator-freezers used one-third less total energy than in 1985 even though there were 70 million more units in use.” (“Energy and Economic Impacts of U.S. Federal Energy and Water Conservation Standards Adopted From 1987 Through 2012.” LBNL, April 2013)

That’s an impressive result, but despite these efficiency-related savings, electricity consumption in the United States has gone up over the past decade. DOE statistics indicate that average monthly electricity consumption nationwide in 2012 was 903 kilowatt-hours, up from 889 kwh in 2000. So what gives?
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Statistics and Predictions—Proceed Cautiously

As a veteran energy journalist, I have written countless stories based on government- or company-provided statistics and many others that relied on “someone important’s” outlook on the future. These stories have value, but they also are full of pitfalls.

For example, the latest full-year data from the Energy Information Administration show that electricity consumption in the United States totaled just over 3.69 trillion kilowatt-hours in 2012, up 5.8 percent from the 3.49 trillion kwh consumed a decade earlier. While not robust, that increase is in keeping with the long-term decline in the growth rate of U.S. electricity consumption so that’s the end of the story, right? Not by a long shot, as those endpoints hide a huge story—the great recession of the late 2000s. Digging into the numbers just a little deeper, you find that current consumption is still below the 2007 pre-recession peak of 3.76 trillion kwh and the story isn’t as rosy as it might have first appeared.

While a straightforward example since everyone is well-aware of the recession’s economic impact, the point is still valid: statistics need to be used carefully. As Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors once wrote: “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.”
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