Sustainability

Italian researchers find rising global temperatures and air conditioning costs may drive low-income families into energy poverty

On a hot summer day, the air thick with humidity, nothing feels better than grabbing a popsicle and sitting by the closest AC vent. What has many scientists concerned, however, is that extreme heat will increase the need for air conditioning. In a recent study, Italian researchers analyzed AC expenditures in eight different industrialized countries and found it could drive low-income households into energy poverty—even ones in developed nations.

The problems we face with air conditioning

AC is costly, especially for low-income families. The study reports households spend 35% to 42% more on electricity with an air conditioner installed. Coupled with the expensive price tag of the units, cooling related energy is growing faster than any other energy service. Between 1990 and 2016, the demand for cooling energy services more than tripled; annual sales from 1990 to 2016 also quadrupled to 135 million units.

But this trend isn’t just for countries with typically warm climates. Even countries that usually don’t experience high temperatures, like Moscow, are experiencing heat-waves. In recent years, climate change prompts more people to buy expensive air conditioning units, as well as pay for their operation.

Energy poverty and its consequences

Energy governs every part of life as we know it. Despite this, over 940 million people don’t have access to energy access across the globe. And this issue remains prevalent not only in developing countries but also in industrialized ones. In the United States, for example, over one-third of households can’t afford energy costs—thus facing energy poverty.

In Canada and Sweden, people spend over 20% of their income on electricity. Similarly, Spain and the Netherlands spend close to 19% of their income on electricity. Needless to say, the price of energy is burning a huge hole in people’s pockets.

But for many, this expense is essential because they can’t live comfortably without it. So, families across the globe may be diverting their income to stay cool, which results in tighter budgets for food and education.

Advocating for solutions to tackle energy poverty

With the increase of AC costs, new policies must be put to help those facing energy poverty. Even though one of the UNs goals is to ensure “affordable, reliable, and modern energy services,” accelerated progress is needed to make this goal feasible.

The authors of the study advocate:

“National policy agendas should thus prioritize increasing the supply of electricity from renewable sources, incentivizing both supply and demand of more efficient appliances, and improving the energy performance of buildings.”

This post was last modified on July 16, 2020 2:11 pm

Jalen Xing

Jalen Xing is a Writer at theRising and the co-founder of Students For Hospitals. You can pitch him stories at jalen.xing [at] gmail [dot] com.

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