Electricity sales in the U.S. actually dropped over the past 7 years — but don’t celebrate yet

Counterintuitively, climate change may actually be reducing electricity consumption under certain conditions

By Keith A. Spencer

Senior Editor

Published August 14, 2017 4:59AM (EDT)


Since 2010, the United States has grown by 17 million people, and the gross domestic product (GDP) has increased by $3.6 trillion. Yet in that same time span, electricity sales in the United States actually declined by 3%, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

The U.S. decline in electricity sales is remarkable given that the U.S. population increased by 5.8% in that same time span. This means that per capita electricity use fell even more than that; indeed, the Department of Energy pegs residential electricity sales per capita as having declined by 7%.

There are likely multiple reasons for this decline in electricity sales. Department of Energy analysts suggest that, at least in part, it is due to increased adoption of energy-efficient appliances and bulbs, like compact fluorescents. Indeed, the DOE notes that there is a correlation between consumer spending on “energy efficiency” and a reduction in per capita electricity sales.

Yet the DOE also notes that states with a greater increase in warm weather days had a corresponding decrease in electricity sales. In southern states, the effect was most dramatic: for instance, from 2010 to 2016, Florida had a 56% decrease in cold weather days that would require heating and as a result, saw a 9% decrease in per capita electricity sales.

The moral is that warm winters save on electricity. But if global temperatures continue to rise, and summers become hotter, too, this decrease in winter heating spending may be offset by the increased need to run air conditioning in the summer. Indeed, it takes far more energy to cool a room than it does to heat it, for reasons related to the basic laws of thermodynamics. 

By Keith A. Spencer

Keith A. Spencer is a social critic and author. Previously a senior editor at Salon, he writes about capitalism, science, labor and culture, and published a book on how Silicon Valley is destroying the world. Keep up with his writing on TwitterFacebook, or Substack.

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