March 5, 2001

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Myth: California ranks high among the 50 states in energy use per person

What the data show: California’s energy use per capita is the fourth lowest of all the states

Although there is considerable technical potential to improve the energy efficiency of California -- and for that matter, the rest of the United States -- California, the most populous in the nation, has one of the lowest rates of energy consumption compared with other states. Energy consumption per capita does not correlate directly with energy efficiency, but efficiency is one of the factors influencing energy consumption per capita.

Of the 50 states, California has the fourth lowest energy consumption per capita.  And, among the 19 most populous states -- those with more than five million people -- California ranks second, trailing only New York.

Energy Consumption Per Capita (1997)
For States With More Than 5 Million People:

Graph by Francis Rubinstein, Environmental Energy Technologies Division

The graph shows energy consumption per capita (as of 1997) for the 19 most populous states. The numeric values for each of four major end uses (residential, commercial, industrial and transportation) are indicated.

In terms of total energy consumption per capita within these 19 states, New York is the most efficient, California is second, and Texas is the least efficient. California's combined residential and commercial per capita consumption is far less than any other state.

In spite of its economic and population growth, a variety of policies and incentives have helped California remain among the most energy-efficient states. They include the earliest state appliance efficiency standards, energy-efficient building codes, and support for utilities’ energy efficiency programs.

A state’s energy efficiency ranking depends on a number of additional factors. Climate is among the most important. For example, Hawaii’s moderate climate leads to less need for heating and air conditioning, so among all 50 states, its energy per capita is the lowest; Alaska’s extreme cold climate places helps explain why it has the highest energy use per capita. Hot-climate states with high air conditioning loads use a lot of energy. The mix of industry in the state is also a factor -- heavy industry is often energy-intensive, for example, and service-oriented, office-based businesses are less energy-intensive. The state’s commitment to promoting energy-efficient practices also plays a role.

Additional information: