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Getting To The Core Of Things

Three surprising facts about energy efficiency

June 2023

by Paul Wesslund, Contributing Writer

We’re all more energy efficient than you might think. And you may also be surprised to learn that we can do even better with a little innovative thinking, and by controlling hidden power users.

Electricity touches our lives nearly every minute of every day and makes up about 5% of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. So, it makes sense to use it wisely, whether you’re concerned about how it affects the environment or you want to save money. Or both.

Here are three surprising facts about energy efficiency that can help you make the best use of your electricity.


A little-known way of measuring efficiency is with a statistic called the energy intensity index. It shows how much energy it takes to produce a dollar of the economy’s Gross Domestic Product. Another term that’s been used for that idea is energy productivity.

Whichever term you use, the indexes show that we’re getting better at creating more economic activity with less energy — energy intensity is down and productivity is up. Way up.

The numbers show that energy intensity is about half of what it was 30 years ago. That’s because we’re making strides in a range of ways from building codes, to light bulbs, to motor vehicle mileage. And these improvements are expected to continue. The Department of Energy projects energy intensity will decline by 30% over the next 30 years.


The old phrase “you have to spend money to make money” is catchy because at first, it sounds like it doesn’t make sense. But when it comes to appliances that consume a lot of energy, it can make dollars and sense.

The yellow Energy Guide labels found on products at your appliance store will tell you how much you can save with a new purchase. Another way to compare the old to the new is to Google “flip your fridge.” That will take you to an ENERGY STAR calculator that will compare the energy use of your current appliances to what’s available in stores.


Did you know you could be spending $100 to $400 a year on energy you don’t even need? That frightening fact even comes with scary names — phantom power or vampire electronics. It’s the TV and video games that draw power so they’re ready to turn on instantly. It’s the digital clocks. It’s the computers and phones plugged in even though they’re fully charged.

Getting rid of phantom power can be tricky. You probably don’t want to regularly shut off your wireless router or constantly reboot your smart TV. But you can plug several devices into a power strip and turn them off when you’re not using them. Or smart power strips are available that will do that for you.

Phantom power costs do add up, but it’s also true that your home has much bigger energy users. If you’re concerned about energy costs, make sure you’re heating and cooling system is up to date and working efficiently, and that your windows and doors aren’t leaking air.

Your electric co-op can advise you on the most effective steps for energy savings — they’re your local leading authority on home energy use. And that’s no surprise.

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.