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It’s probably not valid to compare the US as a whole to the other industrialized countries due to the immense geographic and climatic variability of the United States. However, the state data may be reasonably matched to that of the other countries where the climates are comparable. France and Oregon? Germany and Washington? Italy and California? I need to look more carefully at specific climate data to make an apples-to-apples comparison, but that would really be an academic exercise given the obvious consumption levels of the US vis-à-vis the rest of the industrialized world.

As promised, I will be posting summary data from the US Department of Energy’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey for 2005. Comparison with previous surveys promises to be very interesting.

As always, thanks for visiting and providing feedback.

2005 International Residential Electricity Consumption

Electricity (Spain, Germany, etc.)
Population: (US, Spain, Germany, etc.) 


The state electricity data are more organized, so will be presented first. See how your state stacks up! (Yes, I realize that there are way too many significant figures. You’ll have to round.)

To convert to kilowatt-hours per year, divide Watts/Capita by 1000 (conversion to kilowatts), multiply by 24 (now you’re in kilowatt-hours per day), and finally multiply by 365 (number of days in a year). For example, consumption in my state (South Dakota) is about 5100 kWh per year per person.

State-by-state, per-capita electrical consumption figures for 2005

State-by-state, per-capita electrical consumption figures for 2005

I’m currently working on per capita residential electricity consumption stats for several industrialized countries. As one might expect, the US is the clear victor, out-consuming all challengers by at least two-to-one.

Having heard that California’s per capita consumption has been flat for many years, I’ve looked into and compiled state-by-state numbers for comparison to international figures. Many of these are just astonishing–on the order of 700 watts per capita for the southern states. For comparison, Spain and Italy are both under 200 watts per capita, and California, France, New York state, and Japan are less than 300 watts.

Clearly, we need to do something to alleviate those hot, muggy southern summers!

Just to clarify, the vertical-axis scale on a plot has to be large enough to allow for discrimination among data points. The scale can certainly be chosen for dramatic effect, but I simply wanted to use numbers on the vertical axis that were all within a couple of orders of magnitude. In any case, an updated plot including data through 2007 is shown below. (This is in terms of energy consumption, instead of power consumption as in the previous plot.)

Annual US Residential Electrical Consumption per Capita

I originally chose Watts per capita because it can be mentally related to the number of 100-Watt incandescent bulbs each of us is responsible for running constantly in a given year. For example, during the 1977 calendar year, each American used the energy equivalent of 3.3 100-Watt bulbs burning for the entire year. That’s non-stop, 24/7 use. In 2007, that increased to 5.2 bulbs running throughout the year. My point was that life hasn’t gotten particularly better in that period, despite the increased consumption.

Another point: atmospheric CO2 levels, mercury deposition from power plants, etc. are dependent on the absolute magnitudes of combustive power production. In other words, we all pay the price–and our kids will pay the biggest price–for excessive consumption, energy and otherwise. It is worth repeating that these data refer to total residential consumption, which specifically excludes electrical use by commercial, industrial and utility entities.

Here, for all the world to see, are the electricity and natural gas consumption plots for the period from June 2005 through May 2008 for our house in Rapid City, SD. Our 1952 ranch-style abode is about 1300 square feet, including a highly inefficient garage conversion completed sometime in the 60’s. We blew an additional 1.5 feet of recycled newsprint insulation into the attic and installed a modern gas furnace, but are still contending with the single-pane windows. (The aluminum storm windows do help, and we use shrink-plastic film in winter.)

Monthly Electricity Consumption

Monthly Natural Gas Consumption

(Get the source spreadsheet so you can plot your own data–see below.)

The upward trends for both are best explained by the birth of our son in May of 2006. Though we’ve kept the house a bit warmer for him, this past winter’s natural gas use was held in check by more careful winterizing. In fact, the past winter was several degrees colder than the winter of 2006-7 based on the gas company’s statistics, so we likely would have had lower usage if the weather had been similar.

Also, to keep the bedroom warm for our athletic toddler, who insists on kicking off all covers regardless of room temperature, we tried using a radiator-style electric heater at night. Big mistake, as shown by the electrical peaks for February and March of this year. Finally, a Mac Pro has been in heavy use for video editing since September of last year. It consumes about 350 watts, including 2 monitors, and is responsible for some of the recent trending.

Although posting these stats feels a bit like hanging my underwear out on the clothesline, I think there’d be stronger social pressure to conserve if 1) we all had detailed knowledge of our own consumption patterns and 2) others could see our patterns, too. (Sort of like an eco-Facebook or green-MySpace.)

For reference, our household natural gas consumption is about 71% of the average for our climate region, and electricity, about 41%. (Our water heater, stove and furnace are natural gas.) I think that new windows would result in dramatically lower gas consumption.

I am cleaning up the spreadsheet I made to create the plots. If you want the “dirty” version, please email me at Otherwise, wait for the tidy version, which will include more regional climate info and specific data for cities around the US.

Students at Oberlin College show that conserving resources can be low-tech and fun. Carbon Kids intends to bind individual household groups into a larger movement that includes business, education, government and public utilities. Younger kids are already hard at work in their elementary school.

The following table and plot illustrate changes in usage of electricity, gasoline, coal, etc. with respect to changing population. Apparent in the following table is the dramatic increase in residential energy use relative to the population change during that period. Use of coal and natural gas required to generate that additional electricity has also increased, though coal used for electricity is not specific to residential consumption. Consumer gasoline consumption has slightly outpaced population growth.

Residential Energy Use 1983-2005

A natural target for conservation efforts is therefore in the residential electricity sector. The increased per-capita consumption apparent in the plot below has not resulted in a significantly higher standard of living–at least not in the past few decades. I have not studied post-WWII rural electrification, etc., so can’t comment on per-capita increases during the 40s through the 60s. But I do know that during my childhood in small-town Idaho in the 70’s, my family had electric lights and a refrigerator despite not having a lot of money. Based on this unscientific study, I would suggest that people haven’t gotten happier because of increased electricity consumption. With the availability of energy efficient appliances, heating/cooling units, lighting, etc., significant energy savings are achievable without requiring painful changes in lifestyle.

New Energy Information Administration ( statistics from the 2005 Residential Energy Survey will be released within the next few months, and will provide a detailed breakdown of household energy consumption. With the burgeoning use of consumer electronics, this should be very interesting.

Electricity and Population Growth 1948 - 2005

[refs. 8, 10, 11]

Sources for the above:

5. Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, Annual Energy Review 2006.
Table 5.13a Estimated Petroleum Consumption: Residential and Commercial Sectors, 1949-2006
6. Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, Annual Energy Review 2006.
Table 6.5 Natural Gas Consumption by Sector, 1949-2006
7. Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, Annual Energy Review 2006.
Table 8.5a Consumption of Combustible Fuels for Electricity Generation: Total (All Sectors), Selected Years, 1949-2006
8. Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, Annual Energy Review 2006.
Table 8.9 Electricity End Use, Selected Years, 1949-2006
9. Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy. U.S. Total Gasoline All Sales/Deliveries by Prime Supplier (Thousand Gallons per Day)
10. U.S. Census Bureau. No. HS-1. Population: 1900 to 2002
11. U.S. Census Bureau. The Statistical Abstract 2007: The National Data Book.
Table 11 – Resident Population by Age and Sex: 1980 to 20

By taking such commonsense actions as consolidating trips, using public transportation, and driving the old Honda instead of the SUV, Americans are grudgingly coping with higher gasoline prices. Kids can certainly help their families adopt these new strategies–even if they can’t drive yet.

Perhaps a stretch, but information like this is useful in devising approaches to changing other habitual behaviors–like wasting energy. Among other things, Carbon Kids hopes to give individual actions a collective presence. By working within households/families, communities and schools, the program intends to foster intimate social connections that are pieces of a larger movement. This can’t be done from the top down.

From the other side, individual actions can seem inconsequential if not bound somehow to the actions of others, particularly those people one sees daily. Even local chapters of environmental organizations aggregate individuals from across a city, each person going back to her/his own neighborhood. That’s why, if possible, core activities of Carbon Kids should be connected to schools. In addition to the formalized learning component, elementary schools in particular are in the midst of the neighborhoods they serve, binding the children together by virtue of physical proximity.

This goes to show that younger kids are adept at identifying wasted energy and doing something about it:

The “big kids,” from college students to businesses, can do exactly the same thing. (I’ll be trying to start a program like this at my campus.)

Oregon Green Schools’ page on Hollydale Elementary.