Wednesday, February 18, 2009

California Energy Efficiency

Much has been made by California consultants recently about the efficiency at which Californians use electric power in comparison to the rest of the U.S.  California uses roughly 60 percent as much per capita as the entire U.S.  This comes up as part of the justification for AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, the aim of which is to reduce CO2 and other so-called greenhouse gases.  The idea is that if CO2 is reduced, then the global warming will not happen.  

This reminds me of an old story of a man sitting on a sidewalk in a small country town in Kansas, when a city feller walked by.  The sitting man was rubbing his thumb against his first two fingers on the same hand, over and over and over.   The man walking by stopped and asked, why are you doing that?  The sitting man replied, It keeps the tigers away.  The other man replied, Don't you know that the nearest tigers are in the zoo, a hundred miles away?  The sitting man grinned and said, Works pretty good, don't it! 

Back to California, the story is that California's energy use kept pace with the entire U.S. until the 1960s when it began diverging.  The reasons given for this improved efficiency are the state regulations that required high-efficiency appliances and heating/cooling systems.  

I offer a different reason.  The 1960s is when air conditioners began to be economic and therefore very popular throughout the hot areas of the U.S.  Some of those areas are not only hot, but very humid.  I should know, having grown up in the very hot and humid South.   Air conditioners must work much harder, be sized larger, and consume more energy to remove the humidity from the air as well as cool the air down.  In some applications, the air is chilled much below the building temperature to remove sufficient moisture, then is warmed back up to a comfortable point before being blown into the building.  Such is not the case in most of California, where the air is very dry.  Also, most of the population is concentrated in three large cities right on the coast:  San Francisco and surrounding towns, Los Angeles, and San Diego.  The cold ocean keeps the cities fairly cool.  The combination of dry air and cool temperatures greatly reduced the load on air conditioners, compared to cities in the South, for example Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio.  

California's growth in coastal cities is very small these days, with population growth now happening in the inland areas where it is still dry, but very much hotter.  The air conditioning load is much greater in these expanding cities, compared to the three large coastal cities. 

All this has bearing on the state's expectations that energy consumption per capita can be further reduced via AB 32; some reports are claiming 30 to 50 percent.  

I would not count on it.   It is not that the rest of the U.S. is wasteful in energy, but that California enjoys a unique climate of dry air, and cool temperatures due to the cold Pacific ocean waters, and the majority of the population living in three major cities on or very near the ocean. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.  aka the energyguy on

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