Monday, August 23, 2010

The Most Energy Efficient Economy in History

The top chart shows that the U.S. had the most energy-efficient economy in history last year (data here), based on the amount of energy consumed to produce each real dollar of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2009, it required only 7,290 BTUs of energy (petroleum, natural gas and other energy) to produce each real dollar of GDP, an all-time record low, and less than half the energy required in the mid-1970s to produce a dollar of output.

Just one example of many that contribute to the remarkable increases in energy efficiency over time is illustrated in the next graph showing energy consumption trends for household appliances from 1990 to 2009 (data purchased from the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers). Since 1990, the energy consumption per unit for five of the most common household appliances has fallen so consistently over the last twenty years that today's household appliances use between 20% (air conditioner) and 73% less energy (clothes washer) than in 1990.

Using a slightly different measure of energy efficiency provided by the AHAM ("energy factor") that accounts for changes over time like the average tub volume of  clothes washers (27% larger today than in 1990), the next graph shows the dramatic improvements in the "energy factors" since 1980 - from between a 43% improvement in energy efficiency for the room air conditioner to more than 200% for the refrigerator.

Amazingly, the EIA report also showed that total U.S. energy consumption in 2009 (94.66 quadrillion BTUs) was less than the total energy consumed 12 years ago in 1997 (94.76 quadrillion BTUs). 

See previous CD post here.

Update: We did save some energy in 2009 because output (GDP) fell by 2.44 percent due to the recession, but energy consumption fell by about twice as much (4.81 percent) last year, which lowered energy consumption per dollar of real GDP for the 18th consecutive year to an all-time historical record low.


At 8/23/2010 2:36 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

out of curiosity:

how much of this decline in BTU per $ of GDP is a function of shifting from a manufacturing to a service (and on to an information) economy?

i'm not sure the data exists to look at energy consumption per revenue dollar on an industry by industry basis, but it would be really interesting to see how this trend looks for say steel production or autos.

At 8/23/2010 3:57 PM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

Regarding the chart for Household Appliance Energy Consumtion Trends 1990 to 2009:

The downward trend in energy useage basically stops with the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. There is then eight years of basically no gains. Energy consumption then reestablishes the trend of less energy used with the election of Bush II. Coincidence or correlation?

At 8/23/2010 4:03 PM, Blogger Benjamin said...

Great charts---there is no energy doom.

Add it to the list of hyped threats--cancer from cell phones, terrorists, military threats of any kind, and the Boogyman.

At 8/23/2010 4:07 PM, Blogger PeakTrader said...

"Amazingly, the EIA report also showed that total U.S. energy consumption in 2009 (94.66 quadrillion BTUs) was less than the total energy consumed 12 years ago in 1997 (94.76 quadrillion BTUs)."

Yes, but what are the prices of energy, particularly renewable energy, along with regulations (moreover, are we ready for the $40,000 Chevy Volt)?

At 8/23/2010 4:48 PM, Blogger rjs said...

better get better...

At 8/23/2010 9:14 PM, OpenID Sprewell said...

Wow, that's pretty amazing that energy consumption has only gone up 33% in 40 years, despite massive growth in GDP and activity. Someone needs to stuff these stats down the nearest Green's gullet. ;)

At 8/23/2010 9:48 PM, Blogger Sophia and George said...

Outsourcing energy-guzzling manufacturing to China, maybe a factor ?

At 8/24/2010 7:38 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Hmmm, 'energy efficient economy', eh?

Does this country generate enough electricity if people start buying electric cars?

Speaking of which, why would one buy a Chevy Volt over a Nissan Leaf?

At 8/24/2010 1:42 PM, Blogger Bob said...

These charts (and more like them) are used to illustrate the paradox of "efficiency" vs "usage" of energy in Peter Huber's book:

"The Bottomless Well"

Highly recommended.

At 8/24/2010 3:50 PM, Blogger Michael said...

According to Peter Huber in The Bottomless Well: The twilight of Fuel, The Virtue of Waste and Why we will Never Run Out Of Energy making things more energy efficient will result in the use of MORE energy over time. The charts you show are consistent with that, with the only decline in energy usage showing at the recession, while during the rest of the period that energy efficiency increased, energy use also increased. Peter Huber is essentially a thinking man's George Gilder, I highly recommend his books.


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