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The California "Energy Miracle"

Stashed in: Ecology!, California, Energy!, Charts!, California, Freakonomics

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Incredible chart, Geege. Okay, so what is it that accounts for this divergence?

I say price but ...

Levinson demonstrates that there are three changes over the last 40 years that account for most of the difference between California and the rest of the country that have nothing to do with energy efficiency policy.

First, there is the fact that population has grown much faster in parts of the United States that typically use more electricity to power air conditioners. Since 1963, the populations of the Northeast and Midwest have grown by less than 25%, while the population in energy guzzling parts of the country like the South and Southwest have grown by over 100%. Levinson estimates that this accounts for about 15% of the Rosenfeld effect.

Second, income levels have increased across the United States. With greater wealth, Americans who live in places with extreme Winters and Summers have dedicated their extra income to heating and cooling. The mild weather in California makes spending on heating and cooling less compelling in California, so people have spent their extra income on other things. Levinson estimates this accounts for another 20% of the Rosenfeld effect.

Third and most important, Levinson’s research suggests that over 50% of the Rosenfeld effect can be accounted for by the large decrease in the number of people per home in the rest of the United States, compared to California. From 1960 to 2009, the average household size in California decreased slightly from 3.19 to 3.03 people in a home. In the rest of the country, the change was much more dramatic, with the average household size changing from 3.43 to 2.67. As the chart below from Levinson’s paper demonstrates, larger households tend to use less energy per-person than if the same number of people were living in more, smaller households.


Via Levinson

Overall, Levinson claims that these changes, which are not related to energy efficiency policy and regulations, account for almost 90% of the divergence in energy use between California and the rest of the country. The remaining 10% may be attributable to codes and standards, but it might be a result of other variables Levinson did not analyze, like price.

Many other academics, have researched the disparity between California and the rest of the country in energy usage and come to the same conclusion as Levinson. This includesRosenfeld himself. Energy efficiency is not a primary explanation for this difference.

Okay, to to summarize California has:

1. More residents per home than the rest of the U.S. 

2. Milder weather.

3. Less population growth, relatively. 

If these are the reasons then there's not a lot the rest of the U.S. can do to return to parity.

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