Innovation, FTW: Americans are using less electricity

posted at 3:31 pm on January 4, 2013 by Erika Johnsen

Eco-radicals seem to take great pleasure in indiscriminately fighting tooth-and-nail against economic growth in all corners of the world, no matter if it means killing jobs or perpetuating poverty, because they too often believe that prosperity-for-all and global environmental quality are necessarily and mutually exclusive ends. In the real world, of course, human beings are endlessly adaptable, resourceful, and innovative, and while economic growth and rising fuel consumption may have been pretty well coupled for a lengthy while, we are starting to reach the point where our methods and technologies are getting ever-increasingly smart and efficient, meaning that we are getting more and more energy and productivity out of fewer and fewer resources. Ain’t prosperity grand?

Specifically, Americans’ demand for electricity is on the wane, and while there are a couple of pitfalls there (the recession and manufacturing-industry issues among them), that is at least partially good news:

Americans are using more gadgets, televisions and air conditioners than ever before. But, oddly, their electricity use is barely growing, posing a daunting challenge for the nation’s utilities.

The Energy Information Administration is projecting that electricity use in the U.S. will rise an average of just 0.6% a year for industrial users and 0.7% for households through 2040.

That’s a far cry from the middle decades of the past century, when utilities could rely on electricity consumption growing by more than 8% a year. …

For decades, electricity use was viewed as a barometer of economic growth, but the link has become less clear cut in recent years, partly because of a big push to make major appliances and other products, such as compact fluorescent light bulbs and high-efficiency motors, that use less electricity.

Whether or not President Obama tries to take credit for recent dropoffs with his arbitrarily-slapped on efficiency standards on cars and light bulbs and whatnot, he’s merely tacking on to a trend that’s already happening. Because people will always prefer to pay less for a given product, energy efficiency is a factor that drives businesses to compete and invent ways to improve. Cars are already wildly more efficient than they were just a few decades ago, we use far fewer materials for packaging our wares, increased natural gas usage is helping us cut down our carbon emissions, and etcetera. The computer is probably the singular most indirectly “green” object ever invented!

It’s increasingly clear that continuing economic development is starting to bring about more environmental quality rather than less; who knows what further innovations await, if only we’ll only let it happen?


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