Five years ago, in the publication Rise of the Machines, I wrote about the phenomenon of relentless rising electricity use in the typical UK home between the 1970s and 1995, despite the backdrop of rapidly increasing energy efficiency improvements in the appliances and gadgets we were using. The increase in household numbers in the timescale alone could not explain this trend; and it is now acknowledged that the ‘Rebound Effect’ has much to answer for with increased energy use. That is, although products are getting more and more efficient per unit of ‘use’ or ‘utility’ we get out of them, we are buying more products and sometimes multiples of the same product, and are using these products for much longer periods and often not ever switching them off (sometimes it is not physically possible to switch them off as there is no manual ‘off’ switch).
Well, only 5 years later (better late than never), the US Energy Information Adminsitration (EIA) has come up with exactly the same findings in US households. They have looked at energy use in the house in 1978 and in the year 2005, and concluded that electricity use in appliance and gadgets has, yep you guessed it, nearly doubled over the timeframe. I reproduce the diagram below.
The information comes from a survey that the US EIA carries out on the energy usage in 12,000 typical American homes. For this report they have compared how energy use has changed over three decades. Over the period from the ’70s to mid 90s, U.S. homes on average have become larger, have fewer occupants, and are generally more energy-efficient. In 2005. Energy use per household was 95 million British thermal units (Btu) of energy compared with 138 million Btu per household in 1978, a drop of 31 percent. But still, the
However, the amount of electricity used in appliances and products over this timescale has almost doubled from 17% of total energy used in the home to over 30%. The EIA put this down in part to a rapid expansion in ownership and use of entertainment and communication technology products – similar to the expansion of these products in the UK (see Ampere Strikes Back, the follow up to Rise of the Machines that focused on CE and ICT products).
What this goes to show, yet again, is that we can not rely entirely on technology advances and legislative measures to improve efficiency alone. We need to educate the people who buy these new products and gadgets that the way they use them in the home is as important as ensuring they buy the most efficient product available in the range. Buying an A+ american style double doored fridge-freezer with added ice-maker and built in TV, for a 2 people household say, is NOT going to save electricity, although the occupants might have a warm, fluffy feeling inside because they have bought an A+ product!