As the Washington Post’s Wonkblog reports, while American homes keep getting bigger and we keep stocking them with growing numbers of energy hogging devices like big screen TVs, energy use per homeowner is actually shrinking.
Is this news counterintuitive? It is at first glance, but think about what we know. Today we are building our houses much smarter, and much more energy aware, than we did in the past. Anyone who owns a 1974 ranch can tell you that their home leaks heat like a sieve, while a new built home twice the size is air tight.
But better home construction is only part of the equation. According to the report, the cause behind the big drop in per household energy consumption is the shift in population from colder to warmer climes. Check out this reportfrom the U.S. Census Bureau: you see right away that all the population growth is in the south and west. The chilly northeast is barely growing.
Now, here’s where I fell off my chair a bit. According to the report, which uses data taken from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, a big reason for the drop in energy consumption is because air conditioning in warmer regions uses far less energy than home heating in the colder regions.
Did you know this? Reading it, do you believe it? This is an outcome I never expected. I had always assumed that air conditioning was power intensive. We always hear about the rolling blackouts in the heat of summer, not the dead of winter. I realize that blackouts have more to do with where the energy is coming from than how much energy is being used, yet I believed that air conditioning must be an energy hog. I don’t know why I had assumed this; it may have something to do with growing up in the Midwest and living in an 1886-built home where air conditioning was an unknown luxury.
In any event, I now find that I ought to apologize to a lot of my Phoenix friends, whom I have long accused of being faux environmentalists: How can you run that a/c for eight months of the year and call yourself an environmentalist? I always charged. Well, now I know.