The energy revolution is influencing America’s electricity consumption.

Data released recently by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows a discernible change in the country’s energy use. On one hand, Americans used less energy overall last year. This decline paralleled a similar slowdown in economic activity. In other words, when the economy is bad, people use less power.

On the other hand, more of the power people consumed came from environmentally friendly sources. This second trend is notable because it helped contribute to the first. Perhaps more importantly, it also reflects the success of a major push in recent years to change America’s energy behavior.
While the 2009 decline in the consumption of power generated by traditional sources—coal and petroleum—reflects an overall decline in power usage caused by the bad economy, it also reflects a major change in energy generation and use. More specifically, a more efficient energy economy and the growth of renewable power further contributed to the reduction in demand for traditional power.

According to A.J. Simon, an energy systems analyst with the Livermore Lab who helped prepare the data, Americans have become more efficient in power use, which helped bring down energy use last year.

“Higher efficiency appliances and vehicles reduced energy use even further,” Simon said. “As a result, people and businesses are using less energy in general.”

According to the Livermore Lab, the estimated U.S. energy use in 2009 equaled 94.6 quadrillion Btu, down from 99.2 quadrillion Btu in 2008. The average American household uses about 95 million Btu per year.

Energy use in the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation arenas all declined by 0.22, 0.09, 2.16 and 0.88 quadrillion Btu, respectively.

Growth in renewable power also helped reduce the use of traditional fuels. Simon cited the example of wind power, usage of which increased dramatically in 2009 to 0.70 quadrillion Btu of primary energy compared to 0.51 in 2008. Most of that energy is tied directly to electricity generation and, thus, helps decrease the use of coal for electricity production.

A combination of factors has contributed to the sea change in America’s power usage. Government financial incentives and heightened regulatory standards, a conscientious public and consumer choice in the power market all have converged to create a surge in demand for electricity generated from renewable sources, including solar, hydro, wind and geothermal.

According to Simon, it is a convergence of good policies and science. He called it “a result of very good incentives and technological advancements.”

“In 2009, the technology got better and the incentives remained relatively stable. The investments put-in-place for wind in previous years came online in 2009. Even better, there are more projects in the pipeline for 2010 and beyond,” Simon said.