One State Consumes Half the Energy Per Capita of the Other 49–Guess Who?

Surprise; it’s the Golden standard.

Brian Merchant

Reprint by Brian Merchant
Brooklyn, NY, USA | Sat Oct 17 13:00:00 GMT 2009

california energy consumption
Getty Images

Climate Change | Energy Efficiency

In 1970s, most states had around the same per capita energy consumption. Then, in 1978, one state passed a law enforcing energy efficiency codes. Since then, every other state–all 49 of them–has seen their energy consumption skyrocket, sometimes as much as doubling. That means more burned coal, more greenhouse gas emissions–more trouble.

So how’s that one state doing now? Incredibly, its per capita energy consumption is about the same as it was in the 70s. That state is California. And between 1978 and now, California’s population has boomed, its economy grew exponentially (over the years, it’s hovered around being the 6th-9th largest in the world). But some simple energy efficiency regulations kept it from growing into an electricity hound.

Now, it’s a good thing that energy efficiency is coming back to the center of the clean energy conversation–it’s by far the most effective area we can improve upon right now to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Energy efficiency is crucial to a green future.

I know it seems daunting when scientist repeatedly assert that the world must reduce its emissions 80-90% by 2050. Considering our streets are still packed with gas guzzlers, half our electricity comes from heavily polluting coal plants, and that none of that seems to be changing anytime soon.

Renewable sources like wind and solar power seem to be a ways off before they could effectively provide the bulk of US energy needs, and hybrid cars make up only a fraction of the vehicles on the road. But consider this–we could complete the majority of our emissions reductions just by amping up our energy efficiency. Making our nation’s building and infrastructure more efficient could not only get us most of the way towards emitting 80% less carbon, but it could save the nation literally trillions of dollars.

According to a recent McKinsey report, if we were to invest $500 billion in improving energy efficiency, we’d end up saving $1.2 trillion by 2020. And it may be why Obama just mandated energy efficiency improvements on federal buildings across the nation.

So when you think about a cleaner future, perhaps the solar plants and wind turbines are the sexier images–but energy efficiency produces the savings in money and carbon emissions we can use right now.

More on Energy Efficiency
Beating the Energy Efficiency Paradox
Green Schools Bill to Boost Energy Efficiency , Grow Jobs

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