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Is Per Capita Electricity Use Permanently Flat in the U.S.?

| Written by John Farrell | 2 Comments | Updated on Nov 25, 2014 The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at

While local renewable energy and energy efficiency are both proving to be near-existential threats to electric utilities in the early 21st century, the trends aren’t the same. The rapid rise of renewable energy gets the headlines, and it’s big news. Total renewable energy capacity has grown 10-fold since 2003 and in certain parts of the country, wind and solar represent more than 20% of electricity on the grid.

us installed wind and solar power capacity ilsrBut while renewable energy leads in the news, energy efficiency may be the more persistent threat to electric utilities in the 21st century. The trend of falling electricity consumption is 50 years in the making. The following chart illustrates the shift toward lower electricity use per capita, driven by price shocks and the continued improvement in the energy efficiency of the economy.
flattening per capita electricity usa ILSR

Although growth in per capita energy use has declined each decade until now, the economy made a major shift in the year 2000, from growth of approximately 100 kilowatt-hours per year per person to complete stagnation. In the 2010s, the curve has bent down and may represent a permanent shift toward stagnant or lower per capita electricity consumption.

Alone this represents a substantial reversal in the utility business, but coupled with the rise in distributed renewable energy, it is a clarion call for a new kind of electricity system.

Photo credit: Ashley Rose

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About John Farrell

John Farrell directs the Energy Democracy initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and he develops tools that allow communities to take charge of their energy future, and pursue the maximum economic benefits of the transition to 100% renewable power. More

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  • This is good news, but isn’t American per capita energy use still significantly larger than other countries’ – both “developed” and “developing”? I think our value is 4x higher than China’s, and 1.5 – 2x higher than much of Europe’s.

    Does our high per capita usage impair our effectiveness in global climate talks?

    • windbourne

      it should not impair anything.
      Look, our CO2 emissions is 14% AND DROPPING fast.
      In addition, our electricity is actually growing, but in solar.
      What is missing here, is that growth in nations like China is almost exclusively by Coal.

      In addition, per capita is a horrible measure.
      Instead, it makes far more sense to use GDP, since electricity is actually tied to business far more than to personal use. In POF, if we were to subtract the electricity used by businesses, then the per capita usage is probably very close to that of other western nations.