It is a common misperception that the United States has made little progress in improving its energy efficiency over the last generation. “The United States is known throughout the world as a pathetic energy hog,” Newsweek magazine opined last fall. Not true. Since 1970, total American energy consumption has risen 53 percent. Maybe that sounds bad until you note that the economy during that same period grew by 209 percent in real terms. If we had made no increase in energy efficiency, our energy use would have gone up by the same 209 percent, as shown in the figure below.
Energy consumption per dollar of economic output (the definition of “energy intensity”) has declined at an average annual rate of about 1.7 percent during for the last 60 years. The United States has actually done better than the world average. Since 1980, world energy intensity has declined 36 percent; in the United States it has declined by 43.6 percent.