U.S. Christmas light displays a major energy consumer

(Center for Global Development)
(Center for Global Development)
Nick Fetty | December 23, 2015

Christmas light displays illuminate houses, businesses, and streets around the United States this time of the year but the dark side of the story is the immense amount of energy these lights use.

A 2008 study by the U.S. Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that holiday light displays make up  6.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity consumption in the United States each year, the equivalent of 0.2% of the country’s annual electricity usage. This amount exceeds the annual energy consumption of several developing countries including El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Nepal.

Todd Moss, a fellow at Center for Global Development who helped design the graph above, recently sat down with NPR’s Marc Silver to discuss his findings. Moss said that even though the data he used is about nine years old, he predicts 2015 trends would be similar to what was found in the 2008 study.

“Obviously, energy efficiency is improving, but the average size of homes is going up and incomes go up, and those things drive how much people spend on house decorations. I would be surprised if the number in 2015 was significantly different.”

A shot from space of city light emissions during the 2014 holiday season. Because of snow's ability to reflect light, researchers only examined snow-free regions. (Jesse Allen, NASA’s Earth Observatory/Flickr)
A shot from space of city light emissions. Because of snow’s ability to reflect light, only snow-free regions are featured on this map. (Jesse Allen, NASA’s Earth Observatory/Flickr)

A 2014 study by NASA examined the impact of Christmas light displays from space. The study found that “nighttime lights shine 20 to 50 percent brighter during Christmas and New Year’s when compared to light output during the rest of the year.” The study also pointed out similar trends that happen in parts of the Middle East during Ramadan.

Experts suggest using LED Christmas lights as one way to reduce energy consumption as LEDs require 90 percent less energy than their incandescent counterparts.

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