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US electricity use continues to fall despite a growing economy

Annual electricity use has fallen in the US for the fifth time in eight years, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), with energy efficiency measures being a major factor.

Data on electricity sales indicate that total sales in the US fell by 1.1% in 2015 compared to the previous year, mainly as a result of declining sales in the industrial sector. This was accompanied by little to no growth in the electricity sold to residential and commercial sectors, despite an increase in households and commercial building space, says the EIA.

Other factors contributing to the longer-term declining rates of electricity demand growth include a slowing rate of economic growth and a reduced role for electricity intensive manufacturing in the US.

The EIA says that the drop in sales is driven by both the market as well as federal and state policies, including energy efficiency standards for appliances and lighting equipment (set on a federal level). Some states have also mandated utilities to provide energy efficiency programmes for their customers, including energy audits or refunds on purchasing energy efficient equipment.

Specifically, the data show that demand in the residential sector, which accounted for 38% of electricity use between 2007 and 2015, is largely dominated by weather, with energy efficiency improvements having a long-term downward influence. Phasing out incandescent light bulbs during 2012–2014 had a large effect on reducing demand.

In the commercial sector, which accounts for 36% of electricity use, growth in sales averaged 1.1% per annum between 2000 and 2015. The EIA says that standards to improve efficiency for major end users have helped to moderate growing commercial demand for ventilation services and growing data centre server requirements.

In US industry, electricity sales decreased at an average annual rate of 0.7% between 2000 and 2015. Industry’s share of electricity use declined from 31% to 26% over the period. The sharpest fall year-on-year was in 2009 when the sector experienced a 9% drop due to the recession.

This drop in electricity sales is also mirrored by falling carbon emissions across the US. Importantly, this is occurring while the country’s economy continues to grow.

The US is one of 21 countries that have effectively managed to ‘decouple’ their carbon emissions from their GDP, according to analysis from the World Resources Institute (WRI).

Data from WRI shows that the US is the largest country to see a decoupling. From 2010 to 2012, carbon emissions declined by 6% while the GDP grew by 4%. Should the US proceed with its Clean Power Plan this sustained decoupling will continue, says WRI.




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