Carnegie Mellon University
September 22, 2023

Climate change impacts on future residential electricity consumption and energy burden

In the pursuit of an equitable electricity sector amid the challenges of a warming climate, a team of researchers, including PhD student Andrew Jones, and professors Destenie Nock, and Costa Samaras, took a closer look at climate change's impacts on electricity consumption and energy burden.

While AC is recognized as a crucial climate adaptation measure, it often leads to an increase in household energy costs. This study, which was conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, sought to understand how climate change will affect regional energy equity.

To evaluate the potential consequences of a warming climate, the study combined temperature projections with household temperature response functions derived from smart-meter electricity data. The analysis spanned five decades, from 2020 to 2070, and explored two climate change scenarios: one with AC efficiency upgrades and one without.

The study's findings revealed significant disparities in energy consumption changes among different demographic groups. Notably, elderly and low-income households experienced nearly 5% higher increases in energy consumption compared to their counterparts, even when accounting for factors such as decade, housing conditions, and cooling infrastructure. The lowest income households can see as high as a 14% summertime energy burden.

However, by enhancing the efficiency of AC systems, cooling consumption for vulnerable groups can be reduced by as much as 70%, providing relief from the financial strain associated with AC usage. This highlights the potential for technology to play a critical role in addressing energy equity in a warming climate.

Nonetheless, the study also uncovered a troubling trend regarding racial disparities. A disproportionate share of racial minorities, including Hispanic (21%), Black (18%), and Asian (12%) communities, experienced energy burdens exceeding 6%. These figures underscore the significant affordability challenges faced by these populations, raising concerns about the fairness and inclusivity of climate adaptation measures.

The research's energy justice implications are clear: deliberate considerations regarding technology adoption and its effects on energy affordability and cooling needs are vital for households to adapt to a warming climate equitably. As policymakers increasingly turn to AC as a primary strategy to combat extreme heat, these insights are even more critical for mitigating the risks faced by vulnerable populations.