Data is building that, nationwide, US electricity use is falling. According to the Department of Energy’s 2009 Electric Power Monthly,
Net generation in the United States dropped by 4.2 percent from October 2007 to October 2008. This was the third consecutive month that net generation was down compared to the same calendar month in 2007
The best news of the equation:
Most (69.4 percent) of the 12-month decline in October levels is attributable to the fall in coal-fired generation and 55.4 percent of the coal-fired decline can be attributed to lower coal-fired generation in five States – North Carolina, Georgia, West Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan.
Nuclear power and wind (and other renewable) generation went up.
A brief recap
Let’s review for a second:
1. Reduced consumption;
2. Falling coal-fired electricity production;
3. Increased low-GHG electricity sources.
Even though not everyone is enthused (think falling utility and coal industry profits), that is a combination that we could actually live with if it continued (and accelerated) into the indefinite future.
Will this pattern continue into the future? In no small, the answer to that question depends heavily on the answer to following question:
What’s driving the situation?
Critical is an understanding of what is driving these changes.
1. Weather conditions and other factors independent of human choices?
3. Ethical concerns over global warming and pollution?
4. Programs for energy efficiency?
It seems that, to date, all of these factors are at play.
As to that last, for example, electricity is about seven percent more expensive for residential (10.66 to 11.34 cents/kWh) and commercial (9.70 to 10.33) customers and about ten percent higher for industrial (6.38 to 7.01 cents/kWh) year-to-year. Some areas, like the Washington, DC, area are seeing increases in the double digits. People can respond to price signals, as we saw with reduced driving in the face of $4 gallon/gasoline.
But, it isn’t price alone. In the Washington, DC, area, for example, there are municipalities that have provided free home energy audits, put in stronger building codes, had programs to boost compact fluorescent bulb (cfl) sales, etc.
(At least some) People are increasingly concerned about Global Warming, seeking to take individual action — whether energy efficiency or straightforward conservation. (“Turn out the lights, you think we’re made of money?”)
The recession is, literrally, turning off lights in many establishments and heightening people’s awareness of price signals — and making us more concerned about ‘penny pinching’ to reduce outflows.
And, while a hot year compared to the historical record (somewhere in the 7th to 10th hottest year on record), 2008 was not as blistering hot as the past several years.
Emphasize the good, shun the bad …
Well, some of these driving reasons are “good”: increased energy efficiency; ethical concerns; an understanding that global warming is a quite serious multi-faceted threat meriting a multifaceted response. But, falling electricity demand because businesses are shuttering their windows and people without employment is nothing to celebrate. Thus, the question, in the face of economic recession, how can we move forward with getting people to adopt the habit of become ever more parsimonious in their use of electricity? And, how can we work to have them maintain and strengthen those habits even when economic activity turns around and becomes more active?
In any event, for both good and bad reasons, 2008 saw what we can hope is the start of an ever escalating trend when it comes to electricity:
1. Falling demand/production;
2. Reduced coal-fired electricity production;
3. Increased low-GHG emission source electricity.
Again, this is a trend that we can live with.