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Analysis & Projections

Drivers of U.S. Household Energy Consumption, 1980-2009

Release date: February 3, 2015


In 2012, the residential sector accounted for 21% of total primary energy consumption and about 20% of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States (computed from EIA 2013). Because of the impacts of residential sector energy use on the environment and the economy, this study was undertaken to help provide a better understanding of the factors affecting energy consumption in this sector. The analysis is based on the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) residential energy consumption surveys (RECS) 1980-2009.1

According to RECS, U.S. households used 10.2 quadrillion Btu (quad) of site energy in 2009.2 During the 1980-2009 time period, household site energy increased by 0.9 quads or 8.9%—an average annual growth of 0.3%. Over the same period, the number of households increased by 33.0% and total floor space3 by 52.0%. This is equivalent to an average annual growth of 1.1% and 1.8%, respectively. As a result, the aggregate energy intensity per household and per square foot declined by 24.2% and 43.1%, respectively.4

The change in aggregate energy intensity was affected by other factors such as structural changes and fluctuation in weather. We applied decomposition techniques to separate the effects of these factors on aggregate energy intensity. More specifically, our decomposition identified four main categories affecting energy use: activity, structural changes, intensity, and weather effects.5 Activity was specified as the number of households. Structural changes were the shifts in the mix of housing types, the regional distribution of households, and the average floor space per household. Intensity was the ratio of energy consumption to square foot of living area, and weather reflected energy impacts related to heating- and cooling-season weather variability (Hojjati and Wade, 2012).

distribution of households

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1RECS is most recently available for the year 2009.
2The Btu value of energy at the point of delivery to the home, building, or establishment, is referred to as "delivered" or "site" energy. It does not include losses that occur in the generation, transmission, and distribution of energy. The analysis of energy consumption in this paper is based on "site" energy consumption.
3Total floor space includes attached garages, basements, and finished heated/cooled attics.
4All reported percentage changes are logarithmic to be consistent with the decomposition of energy changes into separate effects.
5Factors such as conservation effort and consumer responses to change in energy prices may also influence changes in energy intensity. These additional factors are not considered in the decomposition analysis.