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Even with all our gadgets, Americans are using less electricity than 10 years ago

Electronic devices are getting smaller and more energy-efficient.

Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Everything from our heating systems to our toothbrushes is plugged in and connected to the internet, and smartphones are glued to the palms of our hands. Yet, Americans are using less electricity than we did 10 years ago.

Overall residential electricity sales have declined 3 percent from 2010 to 2016, and 7 percent on a per capita basis, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Annual and U.S. Census Bureau Population estimates.

Our numerous gadgets are all getting more efficient, so they’re less of a drain on residential electric bills.

And our devices are also getting smaller.

Most TVs are now flat and require less energy to operate than the giant TVs of yore. TVs in general are also disappearing from American households, as Americans spend less time watching TV.

Instead, we spend more time online, increasingly on laptops and tablets (rather than bigger and less-efficient PCs). Most importantly, we’re spending more of our time on relatively tiny and energy-efficient smartphones.

Eventually, however, the ubiquity of rechargeable devices will counter efficiency gains, causing a net electricity consumption increase from 2030 to 2040, according to the EIA.

Also, much of our personal computing is being offloaded to the cloud — i.e. servers in data centers somewhere else. This electricity consumption — carried by the Facebooks, Googles and Amazons of the world, among other companies — is considered commercial electricity usage. There, too, we’re seeing efficiency gains, but our data demands will grow ever larger over the next 20 years.

So, while declines are expected to continue into the near future, the increased adoption and saturation of all types of electronic devices will eventually weigh on electricity consumption in both the residential and, more dramatically, the commercial sectors.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

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