US Uses More Electricity on Christmas Lights Than Ethiopia Does All Year

Still, twinkling light strands represent a mere .2 percent of our annual energy consumption.

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American suburb homes decked out with huge christmas light display

bauhaus1000 / Getty Images

Today, some food for thought while you un-deck the halls, de-trim the tree and neatly pack away the 25-foot multicolored icicle light strands and laser cannons until they’re resurrected once again next Christmastime.

In the United States, holly-jolly seasonal décor of the plug-in variety consumes 6.63 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. In the grand scheme of things, that figure — a figure that’s likely decreased with the rise of energy-conserving LED-based illumination and more austere decorative displays of yuletide cheer — only represents a minuscule slice of America's overall annual energy consumption at a paltry 0.2 percent.

While small potatoes compared to other sources of household energy consumption (heating, cooling, cable boxes, modems, clothes dryers and on), 6.63 billion kWh dedicated to one-upping the neighbors with kaleidoscopic spotlights and light-up Yoda yard statues each December is a lot.

It’s enough juice to power 14 million eggnog-filled refrigerators.

It’s more electricity than many developing nations use in an entire year.

As detailed in a recent post published by the Center for Global Development, America’s singular thirst for big and blindingly bright holiday light displays — “America doesn’t just make things. America makes things spectacular,” Gizmodo's Adam Clark Estes recently mused on our longstanding love affair with Christmas lights — guzzles more energy than countries such as El Salvador (5.35 billion kWh), Ethiopia (5.30 billion kWh) and Tanzania (4.31 billion kWh) consume annually. The same goes for Nepal (3.28 billion kWh) and Cambodia (3.06 billion kWh).

Going by this list, Christmas light usage also tops the national electricity consumption of Honduras, Armenia, Afghanistan, Uganda and countless other nations along with several developed, albeit small, countries including Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta and Mauritius.

While not mentioned by the CGD, it’s safe to assume that Brooklyn’s Dyker Heights neighborhood consumes more electricity from late November through the beginning of January than Belize and Bolivia combined. Well, maybe not but you get the picture.

The figures, gathered from World Bank and a 2008 study from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), pack a sobering punch. However, the CGD didn’t release their findings with the aim to guilt Americans into scaling back on the seasonal light displays. (Not going to happen, anyways.)

Rather, CGD fellow Todd Moss, the co-author of the aforementioned post and staunch defender of Griswoldian holiday traditions (“Christmas lights are a good thing. A beautiful thing!”), simply set out to demonstrate the “tremendous difference in energy use between rich countries and poor countries.”

He goes on to tell NPR:

Some organizations have argued that poor countries should only use renewable energy sources in the future because of global concerns. I have no doubt that sub-Saharan countries, for example, are going to have a very heavy use of renewable energy technologies. But these countries have energy needs that go way beyond what current renewable technologies can deliver. Like every country of the world, poor countries are going to pursue an all-of-the-above strategy, including a mix of hydro, wind, solar, natural gas and geothermal.

"It's pretty rich for me to sit in Washington, D.C., and tell Ghana they can't build one natural gas power plant," he adds.

Yes, the figures used by Moss may be a touch dated. Perhaps the annual amount of energy consumed by Christmas lights hasn’t gone down in recent years as I speculated earlier. Have they gone up? Moss explains “... energy efficiency is improving, but the average size of homes is going up and incomes go up, and those things drive how much people spend on house decorations.”

Still, the message is the same: “Lights are something we take for granted, but a lot of countries around the world don't have enough electricity to run a refrigerator or create jobs.”