In the January/February 1992 issue of Engineered Systems, I wrote an article called "The Consequences of Demand Side Management." With DSM, ratepayers pay their electric utilities to promote rebate programs to lower the purchase cost of more efficient end uses of electricity, such as lamps and motors.

If you believe that DSM increases our electric use, you don't need to read any further because I agree with you. This article is for those readers who think that DSM has lessened our reliance on electricity, especially for some environmental benefit. If we rely only on improved electrical efficiency, the continuing increase in our electric use is not sustainable.

Since my original article, we have experienced 10 years of DSM, and here is an analysis of the changes in our electric use from 1989 through 1999, the most current year for which we have data. Using information from the Edison Electric Institute's Statistical Yearbooks, Table 1 shows our progress.

Increased Energy Use

According to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (, our total use of energy increased 3% from 343 million Btu/person in 1989 to 355 in 1999. With such a relatively small increase in total per person energy, increased electric use accounted for the total increase in energy per person, even offsetting efficiency gains with other uses of energy. Indeed, kWh used per person increased 14% from 12,139 in 1989 to 13,833 in 1999, according to the EEI. The total kWh available to each American increased 26% from 3,011,285 in 1989 to 3,786,225 in 1999. This data is summarized in Table 2.

What role did DSM play in this increase in electric use? Since many more efficient motors and lamps were installed through DSM, would the increase have been greater without DSM? I believe we should discontinue DSM expenditures, and change our policy to something that more effectively reduces our use of electricity. There are four reasons I believe this.

First, most DSM programs are applied to reducing electricity in commercial buildings. In Table 1, that sector had the greatest increase in kWh per meter of all the sectors.

Second, Figure 1 describes information from DOE/EIA (see and concerning the billions of dollars spent on DSM programs. The chart plots those expenses in relation to total kilowatt-hours per American meter according to the EEI. This graph shows that DSM expenditures, plus significant improvements in the efficiency of most end uses of electricity, caused no apparent reduction of our electric consumption.

Third, states that promoted DSM more heavily showed increases or decreases in per person electric use similar to those that did not. In April 2000, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy published a "State Scorecard of Utility Energy Efficiency Programs" ( This report rated states according to DSM expenditures as a percentage of sales of electricity.

Comparing these data to EIA/DOE energy use by state shows that by eliminating the best of the best (Washington state) and the worst of the worst (Nebraska), the remaining nine best and nine worst states for DSM expenditures had per person energy use no different from the country as a whole. Any lowering of kWh per person seems associated with an increase in some other form of energy. DSM didn't make any difference in overall consumption.

Fourth, the numbers from the EEI do not include any of the "saved" kilowatt-hours, through the estimation of which efficiency buffs describe DSM's success. DSM savings are not actual; they are estimated. Any "saved" kWh must be expressed as additional, not fewer, kWh to those shown in Figure 1 if they are defined as equal to generated kWh. When we include these estimated "saved" kWh, the total increase in kWh is inconceivable, revealing our even greater, but less evident, addiction to electricity.

For All the Right Reasons

In my above-mentioned 1992 article, I cited six reasons why DSM would not work:

  • Technical fixes alone won't be sufficient.
  • In order for energy efficiency to work, we have to consume energy, and the more we consume, the more effective energy efficiency is.
  • Energy efficiency is a type of planned obsolescence, increasing material throughout.
  • There are no compelling reasons for DSM.
  • DSM sets no limits on energy consumption.
  • DSM shifts responsibility for energy use from individuals to utilities.

These six reasons still hold true and are supported by these data to show that the apple pie and motherhood adoption of energy efficiency by politicians and environmental organizations is not sufficient to lower our energy use.

Energy efficiency is a mere ratio of benefits to costs. It does not have a goal or a target. It is a means without an end that has become an end in itself. We have to do more than drill and burn our grandchildren's inheritance, and we also have to do much, much more than merely consume it efficiently.

Merely emphasizing improved efficiency is not sustainable. I submit that we must even more strongly emphasize energy preservation as a goal and energy conservation as a method to reach that goal.

Preserving Energy

Energy preservation means keeping fossil fuels in the ground. From our grandchildren's point of view, it is the only goal, so that they have an energy cushion to soften their transition to a post-petroleum society. Within a dozen years, we will witness the peak extraction rate of crude oil worldwide, meaning that we will have extracted and burned the easiest and cheapest oil. Over 70% of the remaining oil will be in the Middle East, and the rest of it will be in frigid locations or deep in the ocean.

Energy preservation underlies the debate about drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, under the Great Lakes, and near Florida. Energy preservation will be a tough and ongoing battle. Under current circumstances, energy preservation would be a miracle. Outside of energy, however, workable examples of preservation in general include the Endangered Species Act and historic preservation. So, the logic of preserving our unique, nonrenewing energy resources, millions of years old, is within our understanding.

Conservation vs. Efficiency

Energy conservation, in contrast to efficiency, means that we choose to turn things off and leave them off, even for a brief moment. While the value of energy efficiency depends on use, conservation means emancipation and freedom. Energy efficiency makes us passive participants because assumed energy reductions are imbedded in purchased technology, but conservation makes us active participants in our relationship with energy. As long as the Amish prosper without needing electricity and automobiles, we witness such freedom. Almost all other countries in the world provide Americans with examples of how to survive and prosper with less energy, if we have the humility to learn from them.

Energy conservation is much more prevalent than efficiency. At any one time, most stuff is turned off. Otherwise, all empty cars would be idling while parked, and we would simultaneously heat and cool all of our buildings all the time. If the efficiency buffs want credit for "saved" kilowatt-hours, the conservation folks should claim infinitely greater kilowatt-hour savings. After all, if we turned everything on, our fuses would blow because the electric utilities cannot match a fraction of the connected load.

Are the efficiency buffs right in assuming that Americans will not accept alternatives to the improved efficiency of end uses? The answer is clear. We have limits on everything - little or no tolerance for child pornography, adults selling illegal drugs to kids, killing innocent people, or stealing from the poor. We now have zero tolerance for smoke polluting our air inside our public buildings. It isn't too big a stretch to apply the same logic to the public air outside our buildings. Culture is based on restraint.

Our domestic production of natural gas may have peaked last winter. Threatened restrictions on Iraq and Venezuelan crude present additional challenges. When prices go up with decreasing supply, we will live in a different world. Given the right leadership, we become instantly frugal. Such leadership would never prepare us to consume more electricity because it is good for our country or the world. If we think ahead just a little bit, we can imagine our grandchildren asking each of us if we held dear to authentic ways to save their energy inheritance - by conserving and preserving it or if we fell for merely burning it up efficiently. ES

EDITOR'S NOTE: The images associated with this article do not transfer to the Internet. To review the figures, please refer to the print version of this issue.