Utilities are apparently freaking out, and we are all to blame

energy use chart
© Sami Grover

Efficiency and conservation aren't just about your personal footprint. They're about reaching tipping points.

We write a lot about installing LED light bulbs or monitoring your home energy use. Typically, we tend to think about these actions as efforts to reduce our own personal footprint. But they are also—and more importantly—about changing the system.

And it's working.

David Roberts has an excellent piece over at Vox explaining that, after rising for 100 years, energy demand is essentially flat and utilities are totally freaking out. Electric utilities, who have to plan decades ahead and who make their money on investments in energy infrastructure, now find themselves in a brave new world where their assumptions about perpetual growth are no longer holding true. From the rise in rooftop solar and energy storage, to the increasing popularity (and affordability) of smart thermostats and other demand response devices, there's no reason to believe that this trend is letting up any time soon.

Roberts argues that, at some point in the not too distant future, we're going to have to fundamentally revisit the rules and regulations that govern the electricity sector, transforming these behemoths from centralized, top down providers of energy to more nimble, sophisticated entities that manage and optimize the two-way flow of electricity. This is not an argument that's new to most TreeHuggers, but I think it's a powerful reminder of why every single thing we do to cut our energy demand is very, very important. Because it doesn't take that much to disrupt the status quo, and once the status quo is disrupted, you suddenly find powerful businesses and organizations who were once propping up fossil fuels are now increasingly invested in developing alternatives.

For my part, it's a timely and encouraging reminder. As I mentioned in my post about discussing your energy bills with your neighbors, I've been on a mission to cut our excessive energy use in our 1936 home. From a fairly extensive (and quirky!) spray foam insulation project I'll be writing about soon, to the installation of the aforementioned smart thermostats and energy monitors, it's been a war on multiple fronts. But as the screenshot from our latest utility home energy report shows, we are finally making progress—for the first time I can remember, our energy use is lower than the average for our house, and our neighborhood. Not bad for a family with two plug-in cars.

This is heartening to me in terms of my own personal footprint. But it's the impact that it's having in my utility's accounting department that really makes me smile.

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