Mind the Electric Gap

Thirty percent of U.S. electricity consumption could be erased through gains in energy productivity, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute. (Related: see R.M.I. chairman Amory Lovins‘s recent guest post.) The institute’s analysis arrived at electricity productivity stats for all 50 states by dividing each state’s G.D.P. by the kilowatt hours of electricity it consumed.

New York state topped its list. For each kilowatt hour of electricity (the equivalent of burning one 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours) the Empire State consumes, it generates $7.18 in G.D.P. Mississippi, squarely on the bottom of the electric productivity list, generates just over $3 per kilowatt hour. The R.M.I. claims significant cutbacks in carbon emissions could be made (pdf) if all 50 states could increase their productivity to match the top 10 most productive states (in descending order: New York, Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Colorado). They call it “closing the efficiency gap.”

See for yourself. To visualize its data, R.M.I. has launched a cool interactive map, where you can see how your state stacks up in energy productivity, and the potential carbon savings it could make through productivity enhancements alone.

The institute is currently at work on a follow-up paper that will offer some solutions for closing that gap. What kinds of strategies should they use?

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  1. erik says:

    Different industries have different ratios of GDP per KWH. A state with a lot of farms will have a different ratio than a state with a lot of banks or movie studios or whatever. It is just plain goofy to suggest that that Mississippi can improve its ratio by, say, supplanting Hollywood.

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  2. Mike says:

    It’s been a while since I took microeconomics, but, even if we buy the argument RMI is making (and there are plenty of reasons not to as the other commenters have noted), wouldn’t increasing GDP per KWh lead to an increase in KWh consumed? If I could get double the value from electricity, the marginal cost would have to rise or I’d want as much electricity as I could get.

    Just as with CAFE standards (which don’t work, unless your goal is to bankrupt auto makers) vs. gas taxes (which would), if the goal is to decrease the quantity used, make it cost more. Increasing efficiency by itself won’t result in less consumption.

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  3. Baseball Mike says:

    Has anyone noticed that other than CA, these appear to be the most populus and productive of the “cold” states? How in the world can RI make any list, in the face of 10% unemployment and not much industry to speak of? And why doesn’t a state like TX make the list? I’ll bet that the list more closely tracks the use of air conditioning (or lack thereof) than it does anything else. So — if you want to pick on states that use a lot of electricity or have homes that are too large for their own good — can’t you find other ways to do that?

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  4. Helen says:

    How are the TARP funds going to factor into the calculations? Are the massive losses from 2007 – 2010 (I’m an optimist, you see) of the NY financial firms going to erase the “energy productivity” advantage the state appeared to enjoy at the peak of the bubble (2005)?

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  5. Xian says:

    Yeah, lets see how effcient the top ten will be after all the chips fall from this ‘Banking Crisis’ that obviously over-inflated their GDP. Alaska would be the only state that is actually going to keep up even though oil prices has dropped drastically, lets go back ten years and see some real evidence that these states are truely efficient in producing goods and services. so if RMI wants the entire US to be as efficient as New York, lets see you eat when the midwest turns from farming to ‘soft industry’ or the previously profitable banking sector.

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  6. Mike says:

    If we turn out all the lights and use candles/firewood etc, our electricity efficiency would be infinite!!!

    The Amish must have very high electricity efficiency.

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  7. DCF says:

    Without having read the study which generated the map this may be premature, but I agree with others saying that this is kind of a silly map. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the states which do well (with the notable exception of California), do not have much of state production from farms. If the US ceased farming, then people would not discover how to farm more efficiently, and unless people want to starve, the world will produce roughly the same amount of food requiring roughly the same amount of power as before the US implemented the suggestions from this study.

    A potentially more interesting analysis of the data would be to control for output type (i.e. is a dollar of farming output in California more energy efficient than a dollar of farm output in Mississippi). As a hypothesis, I suggest controlling for output type would eliminate the large disparities.

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  8. Nuclear Mom says:

    I think the comments about variations in GDP are well-founded, but the League of Women Voters did a study of California energy production/usage about 3 years ago, and we had gone from above-average use per capita (not per GDP) to 30% below the US average per capita.

    Some additional points:
    1. The biggest use of energy in California is pumping water up and down the state. Higher electricity prices also translate into higher water prices here.

    2. California made a choice years ago to be “green” and to get nearly none of its energy from coal and a diminishing fraction from oil. About a third of the energy now is nuclear (although that’s in danger of declining), and close to 20% is renewable (sun, wind, co-gen). Therefore our energy prices are higher than average – another incentive to be frugal/efficient.

    3. As with water, the cheapest new kilowatt hour comes from conservation by current users rather than generating a new kWh. We are constantly getting calls from the gas company and the electric company offering to caulk or replace our windows or give us rebates for purchasing energy efficient appliances or newer central heating/cooling units, fluorescent bulbs, etc. I believe the figure was 12 new power plants did NOT have to come online since 1980 due to increased efficiency (compared to typical use per capita in 1980), a big cost saving.

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