special to the times
Despite the increasing “gadget-ization” of today’s consumer-driven lives, residential electric consumption in the Tennessee Valley has reportedly fallen in the last two years to levels of a decade ago.
That decline is “consistent with national numbers with regard to trends,” said TVA spokesman Duncan Mansfield.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the average American home used 10,819 kilowatt-hours per household in 2013, representing a drop in electric consumption for the third year in a row.
In comparison, the average Tennessee Valley home used 14,671 kWh per household in 2013, a number only slightly higher than 2012’s lowest-since-1997 average of 14,533 kWh.
While Tennessee Valley consumption is higher than the national average – likely due to lower price, higher availability, and Southeastern demand for air conditioning – its numbers, like the national numbers, show a downward trend.
“With the exception of a spike in 2010 due to an exceptionally hot summer, average consumption has generally declined,” said Mansfield.
Mansfield says that though the decline means that TVA sales are down, it’s a “good news – bad news” situation. “TVA has been a strong advocate of energy efficiency and that’s continuing.”
“TVA actively encourages energy efficiency by working with local power companies to offer programs that help save energy and lower electric bills,” said Mansfield. “An advantage to a wholesaler like TVA is to be able to level off peaks in demand. If we can level that off, we are able to meet capacity.”
One program that has been “dramatically felt,” according to Mansfield, is TVA’s In-Home Energy Evaluation, begun in 2009. Since that time, TVA has performed 64,599 home evaluations with 44,133 of those homes making the recommended improvements, for which TVA provides rebates.
Improvements to household energy efficiency include things like installing better-insulted windows, replacing inefficient HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units and better insulating older homes.
Heating and cooling represents nearly 40 percent of Tennessee Valley energy consumption. Tougher building codes adopted in the early 2000s to better seal new construction against heating and cooling leaks have improved the energy efficiency of new homes.
For both newer and older homes, however, the impact of the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program should not be ignored.
ENERGY STAR was introduced as a voluntary labeling program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products in 1992. By 1997, the program had labeled heating and cooling products, clothes washers, and appliances such as dishwashers and refrigerators.
By 2013, 16 years after the appliance-labeling program had begun, household appliances that pre-dated the program were reaching the end of their average life spans and being replaced with more efficient models. “You have to assume it had some impact,” said Mansfield.
The downward trend in electric use is not limited to households. The economic downturn and recession-based industrial slowdown prompted many manufacturers to make better use of their electric dollars by switching to energy-efficient LED lights and installing occupancy sensors, according to Mansfield.
Fiscal Year 2013, Mansfield says, was an outstanding year for TVA energy efficiency and demand response. “For the sixth year in a row, TVA exceeded its energy efficiency goals, saving 521 gigawatt-hours, enough energy to power about 32,500 Valley homes.”
“Using electricity smartly reduces TVA’s cost of supplying reliable power to the Valley, and that helps TVA keep electric rates low for Valley businesses and consumers.”