Deconstructing the 'Rosenfeld Curve': The Problem with Energy Intensities

29 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2010 Last revised: 5 Nov 2014

Date Written: November 27, 2010


As policy makers across the world seek to mitigate the growth in our demand for energy, examples of populations that appear to have achieved this end are of widespread interest. Since the early 1970s, electricity consumption per capita in California has stayed nearly constant, while rising steadily for the US as a whole. I use empirical data to estimate the fraction of the difference between California and the United States owing to policy independent characteristics such as climate, industry structure or demographics, and the residual fraction that may be due to policy measures aimed at saving energy. I analyze historical trends in the commercial, industrial and residential sectors using aggregate survey statistics from various sources. I find that for 2005 about 66 percent of the overall difference between California and the United States may be explained by structural differences between the two populations with the remaining third possibly a consequence of state policies to improve energy efficiency. I conclude that while a significant policy effect may exist, caution needs to be exercised in using the California example to inform expectations from similar measures in other regions. This example illustrates why using energy intensities as a basis for comparing populations can be fraught with peril.

Suggested Citation

Sudarshan, Anant, Deconstructing the 'Rosenfeld Curve': The Problem with Energy Intensities (November 27, 2010). USAEE-IAEE Working Paper No. 10-057, Available at SSRN: or

Anant Sudarshan (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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