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Stabilizing California's Demand

The real reasons behind the state’s energy savings.

Fortnightly Magazine - March 2009

this school of thought fails to address the fact that California is different from the rest of the United States in multiple respects—many of which influence electricity consumption. To isolate one particular difference between California and the United States (EE savings) and attribute the divergence in per capita use to this one factor, is likely to overstate the impact or import of that variable. While EE programs and standards undoubtedly have contributed to the relatively stable pattern of per capita electricity consumption in California, our analysis found a relatively weak association between California’s EE savings and per capita consumption. Rather, these savings have been achieved within a specific socioeconomic context that also acted on electricity consumption trends.

A number of factors distinguish California from the rest of the United States, and may have contributed to keeping the state’s electricity consumption relatively stable. Understanding the role of these factors, as well as savings from EE programs and standards, will allow for a better assessment of the extent to which the California model successfully can be transplanted to other states, regions, or countries. Although the California model may offer lessons for other states or countries, its applicability to meeting global warming targets is limited at best, since what’s necessary are sustained absolute reductions in energy consumption, something not observed in the state of California as a whole or anywhere else.

Slow growth in California’s per capita electricity consumption over the past several decades combined with population growth equals significant (~2 percent p.a.) growth in total electricity consumption for the state. This is the variable that must be tracked—and reversed.



1. California’s Energy Action Plan II adopted in 2005 by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and California Energy Commission (CEC) established a “loading order” of preferred resources—placing EE as the state’s top priority procurement resource—and set aggressive long-term goals for EE. See CPUC and CEC, Energy Action Plan II , October, 2005 .

2. CPUC and CEC, Energy Efficiency: California’s Highest Priority Resource - Lowering Energy Costs, Promoting Growth, and Protecting the Environment , August 2006 . See also the CEC’s 2007 Integrated Energy Policy Report (IEPR), Executive Summary, p. 2:

“Largely as a result of these [energy efficiency] policies, California has the lowest electricity use per person in the nation. While the United States has increased by nearly 50 percent over the past 30 years, California’s per capita electricity use remained almost flat, demonstrating the success of a variety of cutting-edge energy efficiency programs and cost-effective building and appliance efficiency standards.” (emphasis added).

CEC, Integrated Energy Policy Report , CEC-100-2007-008-CMF-ES, December, 2007. Further, see CPUC and CEC, Energy Action Plan: 2008 Update , February, 2008.

“Below we have included one of California’s famous graphics of success in energy efficiency. As Figure 3 indicates [U.S. v. California Per Capita Electricity Sales] , electricity use per person in California has remained relatively stable over the past 30 years, while nationwide electricity use has increased by about 50 percent.

While this stabilization of per capita electricity use is something we are proud