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Every year, millions of Americans power up decorative lights to celebrate the holidays. These festive lights invoke the best human aspirations of peace, joy, and generosity.

This time of year, Americans should also celebrate that we can enjoy these traditions because we live in a country with a modern energy system that (almost always) delivers affordable 24/7 electricity.

The holiday spirit is also about remembering the less fortunate. That’s where the lights are doubly useful as a timely reminder of the massive gaps in global energy access. Here in the United States, we have plenty of power for holiday lights, but many countries don’t even have enough electricity for their basic needs. Indeed, some entire countries use less electricity per year than Americans do on holiday lights.

US Holiday Lights Use More Electricity than Some Entire Countries Use in a Year


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To be clear, we’re not suggesting people stop decorating their homes and Christmas trees. We’re not even calling on people to consume less electricity. In fact, precisely the opposite: billions of people live today in countries that lack the energy needed to create the jobs they need or even to support the everyday lifestyles that we now consider normal.

If every human being will one day have a refrigerator, a computer, and an air conditioner, we’re going to need a High Energy Planet. We shouldn’t try to squash these aspirations. Instead, let’s find a way to meet them. What could be more in the holiday spirit than that?

Note: This is an update to a blog post from 2015. The country figures are for 2015, taken from the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). The US holiday light estimates are based on a 2008 EIA report, which we adjusted for efficiency gains from LED market penetration growth from 5 percent to an estimated 50 percent.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.