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Miscellaneous Electricity Use

Historically, efforts to save residential energy and reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. have targeted conventional end uses such as water heating, lighting, and refrigeration. The emergence of new household appliances has transformed energy use from a few large and easily identifiable sources into a broad array of miscellaneous energy services. The miscellaneous electricity end use includes televisions and VCRs, water bed heaters, aquariums, electric toothbrushes, home computers, microwave ovens, ceiling fans, hot tubs, and halogen torchiere lamps.* This group of so-called miscellaneous appliances has been a major contributor to growth in electricity demand in the past two decades and is expected to be one of the fastest-growing residential electricity end uses in 1995 to 2010.

Based on shipments, lifetimes, and wattage data from 1976 to 1995, we constructed a bottom-up end-use model that includes more than 90 individual miscellaneous product types. We used the model to identify the most energy-consuming individual products within the miscellaneous category and identify and analyze policy priorities.

Stacked graph illustrating the growth of residential miscellaneous electricity use between 1976 and 2010.

Miscellaneous electricity now accounts for approximately one-fifth of U.S. residential electricity use (235 TWh/yr). Our projections show that without policies to affect miscellaneous energy use, it will increase to 335 TWh between 1996 and 2010, accounting for almost all forecasted growth in residential electricity consumption. Product types in the consumer electronics category are expected to account for 40 percent of this anticipated growth. We also found that in some households, energy from a miscellaneous appliance can far exceed the energy from more conventional household uses. A waterbed heater can use more energy than an efficient refrigerator, and a 180-gallon coral reef aquarium tank can use more electricity than a residential central electric heating system and refrigerator combined (fort unately only about 100,000 U.S. households have such an energy-intensive aquarium).

Reducing Miscellaneous Consumption

Opportunities exist to reduce energy consumption in this large and quickly growing end use. Even though miscellaneous electricity is a complex end use, our results show that only ten individual product types account for more than half of current consumption. We also found that only ten product types are expected to account for 60 percent of the projected growth. About 20 percent (40 TWh/yr) of miscellaneous consumption consists of standby losses from appliances that are switched off or are not performing their principal function. These standby losses are sometimes called "leaking" electricity and mainly occur in consumer electronics.

More than $1 billion per year could be saved in the U.S. by reducing the standby power loss of every leaking appliance to one watt. These efforts would reduce standby power consumption by nearly 50 percent. Models offered by major manufacturers in most product categories now routinely meet this one-watt level for standby power, without affecting the services delivered to consumers. Ongoing voluntary labeling efforts similar to US EPA's EnergyStar® TV, VCR, and audio programs can help reduce forecasted growth in the miscellaneous electricity end use.

*Data sources used in this study classified halogen torchieres as "miscellaneous" even though they represent a lighting end use.

— Marla Sanchez

For more information, contact:

  • Marla Sanchez
  • (202) 484-0880 x119
  • Jon Koomey
  • (510) 486-5974; fax (510) 486-6996

The text of the report "Miscellaneous Electricity Use in the U.S. Residential Sector," by M.C. Sanchez, J.G. Koomey, M.M. Moezzi, A.K. Meier, and W. Huber, LBNL-40295, is available for downloading at the Residential Miscellaneous Electricity web site.

For more information, refer to "Homes that leak electricity and how to plug them" visit Research News at Berkeley Lab.

This research is supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Building Technologies, State and Community Programs.

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