----- Original Message -----
From: Gene Cramer
Sent: Sunday, August 19, 2001 7:39 PM
Subject: EnLG 2001aug19 Electricity use up since 1949 pushed by an explosion of appliances
These kids today ... love their power
Energy: An explosion of appliances has pushed electricity use up since 1949.
The Wall Street Journal August 19, 2001 By CYNTHIA CROSSEN
Compared to your grandparents, you, personally, are an electricity hog.
Look around your house: probably at least one television, stereo and computer. In the kitchen, you're likely to have a microwave oven, automatic coffee maker and blender, and you may also have a bread maker, a can crusher or maybe even a food-bag sealer. In the bathroom, is there an electric toothbrush, razor, curling iron or shaving-cream warmer?
Only a century ago, the few American homes that were wired for electricity used it almost exclusively for lighting and a few small appliances. But most utility companies didn't offer energy to residences during daylight hours. A turn-of-the-century house might have only one socket delivering 100 watts of power, making large appliances impractical. Even to use a small appliance, such as an iron or ceiling fan, people might have to unscrew their single light bulb. There were frequent service disruptions, and residential customers were treated as third-class citizens after manufacturing and commercial users.
Today, a small electric towel warmer uses 100 watts of power, and a typical large home may consume well over 4,000 watts of electricity at a peak time, such as a late summer afternoon.
Since 1949, when the government began keeping national energy-use statistics, Americans have increased their annual use of household electricity 17-fold, from 67 billion kilowatt hours to 1.1 trillion kilowatt hours.
Faced with energy shortages in California and elsewhere, President George W. Bush has urged the industry to develop new sources of power -- even reviving shuttered nuclear plants. Nationwide, little attention has been paid to curbing the country's burgeoning demand for electricity -- probably because it seems insatiable.
California is an exception. It recently ranked 49th out of 50 states in per capita electricity use. And with energy-conservation efforts implemented in the face of rate increases and blackouts, Californians have saved as much as 12.3 percent a month more this summer.
But overall demand for power is likely to continue rising, government and industry officials say. American homes are still getting larger, and big houses use more energy. Population booms in the South and Southwest have resulted in millions more housing units with central air conditioning, the second-biggest user of residential electricity after water heaters. Meanwhile, makers of computers, home appliances and entertainment equipment keep coming up with new gadgets that use electricity.
The amount of electricity consumed for heating, air conditioning, water heating and refrigeration has remained fairly steady over the past 15 years, because of 1987 federal regulations mandating energy efficiency in large home appliances. But small appliances continue sucking up wattage. Security systems feed on electricity, as do swimming pool pumps and smoke detectors. Humidifiers and dehumidifiers, sump pumps and bun warmers, hot plates and snow blowers -- the list is endless.
Not long ago, household appliances like these were considered negligible compared with the big electricity gluttons such as space and water heaters and coolers. Small appliances were lumped together in one statistical category called "miscellaneous." Now miscellaneous energy is one of the largest and fastest-growing categories of energy use. Between 1976 and 1995, miscellaneous energy use in United States homes more than doubled, and it accounts for some 20 percent of all electricity used in United States homes, according to a 1998 study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
"In some homes, conventional uses of energy are dwarfed by miscellaneous appliance loads," notes Marla McWhinney, lead author of the Lawrence Berkeley study. For example, a heated water bed can use more electricity than an efficient refrigerator, and a 180-gallon coral-reef aquarium might need more electricity than a central-heating system and refrigerator combined.
Even when many appliances are "off," they're still using electricity to power clocks or remote- control systems; the only way to shut them down completely is to unplug them.
Your grandparents probably had some electricity in their homes -- by 1930, seven of 10 American houses were wired. Utility companies that had been focusing almost exclusively on industrial customers began to realize that residences could help balance the level of demand between day and night.
Electric companies began working to increase residential consumption by promoting toasters, hot plates, ceiling fans and massagers. Even in the decade after 1929, when America was struggling through a depression, domestic electric consumption more than doubled.
After World War II, as the population grew, became more affluent and moved to suburbia, the pace of invention quickened, and televisions, dishwashers, washing machines and frost-free refrigerators became standard appliances. Children might have night lights, record players, clock radios.
Outside, people were lighting up their patios, heating their pools and firing up their electric rotisseries. In the 1970s, the personal computer started appearing in a few homes, and today more than 80 percent of American homes have some form of electric office equipment, according to the Energy Information Administration.
In the three years since McWhinney published her paper, many manufacturers of consumer electronics have joined the federal Energy Star program; under the program manufacturers agree to adhere to energy-conservation standards in return for the right to carry an "Energy Star" label on their products, a signal many consumers now look for. While that may slow the rate of growth of miscellaneous electricity use, it's likely that nothing can stop it altogether. Not when there are digital karaoke machines, Weemotes (remote controls for children) and mouse pads that make frog noises.
Little-known facts about electricity consumption
Contrary to popular belief, it's cheaper to turn incandescent lights off and on than to leave them on, even for a few seconds.
Using disposable batteries to power electronic equipment costs about $130 a kilowatt-hour, compared with about eight cents for line power.
Rechargers for devices such as cell phones, camcorders and Palm Pilots use electricity whether they're charging or not.
Anything with a remote control -- TV, stereos, VCRs -- uses electricity even when not in use. To prevent it, the appliance must be unplugged, but be prepared to reprogram.
Incandescent and halogen bulbs, the most commonly used light sources in American homes, produce light as a byproduct of heat. They waste 90 percent of the electricity they consume. Fluorescent bulbs are far more efficient.
Empty refrigerators use more energy than full ones because they have more air to cool.