As power consumption falls, it’s time for sober second thoughts

Here’s an interesting article from the Wall Street Journal (via the Indianapolis Star) that talks about an “unexpected drop” in electricity consumption across the United States that can’t be explained by the housing crisis or general economic conditions alone. It’s a strange article, in a way, because it doesn’t even mention the word “conservation” and reads like there’s some kind of X-Files mystery to investigate.  There is passing reference to customers maybe using less energy because they’re being told to, but it’s hardly held up as the biggest explanation. “Something fundamental is going on,” says Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers. He just doesn’t know why… weird.

Anyway, the same strange phenomenon is happening in Ontario. The difference is that our electricity planners are blaming it on the downturn and not giving much credit to conservation efforts. But with a $26 billion spending program to build more nuclear, at some point the province’s government will have to justify such spending if electricity use continues to decline.

9 thoughts on “As power consumption falls, it’s time for sober second thoughts”

  1. Good point — I know I’ve stepped up my conservation efforts and it makes sense that public awareness is having some impact. I wonder whether the spike in gas prices earlier this Summer may have also jolted some consumers into action in other areas of their energy use behaviours. In my case, I upgraded my thermostat to a more programmable powersaver and continue to try to find ways to keep things lean on the power/energy front.

  2. Interesting. What could explain this drop off in demand? We’ve been inundated with green and energy-saving tips for a while, and of course “green” has been an offical trend for 3-4 years. More importantly, millions of CFLs have been handed out, refrigerators have been replaced, efficient appliances have been more accessible… eventually, isn’t this all bound to pay off?

    Then again, I think that gas prices have produced a highly “teachable” moment for many people. They receive a shock–a pretty serious body blow–at the gas pump. There’s little they can do about their driving behaviour, but the point is taken that they need to reduce expenses somewhere else…the most obvious place is the home energy bills. Especially with the concepts of climate change, energy security, and oil price volatility floating around so prevalently.

    But still, we can’t reliably explain what’s happening to demand. That means demand could rise as enexpectedly as it fell. The problem with voluntary/lifestyle conservation measures is that they could go as easily as they came.

  3. Of course people are starting to conserve energy. I have even gone one step further and purchase my electricity from Bullfrog power.

    Every single nuclear project in Ontario hs been over budget and over schedule. Hydro One has a $40 billion debt because of it.

    I realize I am not typical and the only way Ontarions will really conserve electricity if they are required to pay more. This is why I look forward to the cost strucuture that will come when these time of use meters are fully implemented. This is when we will see Ontario consumption really dropping.

  4. There is also the possibility that the population is decreasing as many Mexicans who can no longer find work head home. According to NPR last night, this seems to be happening whether they are here as naturalized citizens, legal aliens, or illegally.

  5. Eric Childs wrote:”The problem with voluntary/lifestyle conservation measures is that they could go as easily as they came.”

    I would have to disagree with your statement, especially because what you mentioned in your first paragraph. All of the efficiency that was bought is starting to pay off. Remember that efficiency is a long term investment, so having the demand swing frequently is tougher. If energy becomes cheaper, I am confident you will not change all your lightbulbs back to incandescents. (If you can find one, see Tyler’s recent post about GE bulbs)

  6. Here’s a reason for utility companies to really get behind PHEV’s. The Volt from GM uses up to 8kWhrs per day which should be good for increasing my my energy usage more than I’ve reduced it by changing to all CFL’s.

  7. Maybe we are just catching up to the California model, where, while i do not have the numbers on the tip of my tongue or handy, electricity consumption has effectively been pretty flat for 30 years.

  8. People are going green, but on average, it is at a slow and steady rate. Old furnaces (with AC motors) are being replaced with new furnaces (with DC motors) at a rate of about 4% per year. People are slowly replacing incandescents with CFCs. Flatscreen TVs are slowly replacing CRTs….and so on. This points to a slow and steady improvement of efficiency.

    The sudden drop in electrical demand is the crashing economy. There is devastation in people’s financial portfolios, and this leads to a lot of people with very restricted cash flows. With restricted cash flow, people cut back on stuff, and factories ratchet back production. Remember that the drop in demand follows the financial crash, and precedes the job losses.

    This is a great opportunity for companies like Bullfrog Power to come in and offer green electricity, but only if they match market rates. The more they can do it, the more likely the nuclear spending will have to be deferred.

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