Although California has a reputation for smog-choked freeways and self-indulgent excess, the Golden State consumes less energy per capita than any other state in the union. What’s the secret? A combination of tough regulation and high prices.
And while overall U.S. energy demand has risen by 50 percent since 1974, California consumes about the same amount of energy and has managed to cut CO2 emissions by 30 percent during the same period.
For 30 years, [Arthur H.] Rosenfeld has been one of the forces guiding California on a mission of conservation. And today the state uses less energy per capita than any other state in the country, defying the international image of American energy gluttony. Since 1974, California has held its per capita energy consumption essentially constant, while energy use per person for the United States overall has jumped 50 percent.
California has managed that feat through a mixture of mandates, regulations and high prices. The state has been able to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, keep utility companies happy and maintain economic growth. And in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on global warming, California serves as a model for other states seeking a similar path to energy reduction. Now California is pushing further in its effort to cut automobile pollution, spur use of solar energy and cap greenhouse gases.
“California really represents what the rest of the country could do if it paid a bit more attention to energy efficiency,” says Greg Kats, managing principal at Capital E, an energy and clean-technology advisory firm. “California is the best argument we have about how to very cost-effectively both reduce energy consumption and cut greenhouse gases. And they’ve made money doing it.” Kats estimates that the average Californian family spends about $800 a year less on energy than it would have without efficiency improvements over the past 20 years.
Today, as an energy consumer, California is more like thrifty Denmark than the rest of the energy-guzzling United States. While the average American burns 12,000 kilowatt-hours a year of electricity, the average Californian burns less than 7,000—and that’s counting renewable energy sources.