Electric power plants are the single largest source of air pollution in the United States, relying heavily on the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. The combustion process emits pollutants that contribute to acid rain, smog, global climate change, and a variety of public health problems.
Electricity production is generally cleaner in California than elsewhere in the United States, at least partly because of the state's history of investments in energy efficiency and renewable resources. Those investments are also reflected in the percentage of electricity produced from sustainable, renewable sources. Twelve percent of California electricity comes from such sources -- wind, hydroelectric, and solar, for example -- compared with just 1 percent nationally. Such investments are also cost-efficient, having saved Californians more than $3 billion on their electric bills from 1990 to 1999, according to California Public Utility Commission figures, while eliminating the demand for power equivalent to the output of 11 large power plants since 1980.
Residential Electricity Use
Residential use accounts for about 30 percent of California's electricity consumption, with refrigerators and lights accounting for about 56 percent of the total electricity used by residential customers. Three major factors have been at play in the significant increase in overall residential demand: rising population (more people using electricity), many new kinds of electronic devices (computers, printers, etc), and more use of those devices (for example, many more people now have computers). Working against those trends, however, is the introduction of increasingly energy-efficient appliances and more energy-conscious home construction. As a result, while demand has gone up, the accompanying rise in per-household use has been smaller. New data from January to June 2001 suggest that demand can be reduced, but it is too early to know whether and how much of the recent reductions will become permanent.
Residential Natural Gas Use
Residential customers consume the largest share of natural gas in California, with three-quarters of the total used for space heating and water heating. A decline in natural gas use per household since 1994 is largely the result of improved building standards for natural gas space-heating use and the fact that there are no new gas appliances. Residential customers account for about 37 percent of the state's natural gas consumption.