The cost of new technologies capable of improving energy efficiency, generating and storing energy, and decarbonizing end-use appliances is declining and their availability is growing, but the ability of disadvantaged communities to participate in the advances is far from equitable, a new report says.
The level of natural gas and electricity consumption is about half within DACs compared with more affluent communities, suggesting that the difference is usage of energy for sufficiency compared with usage for excess, according to the study from Elementa, a journal studying the science of the Anthropocene, the proposed name of a geological epoch dating from the commencement of significant human impact on Earth's geology and ecosystems.
The study presents a series of forecasts showing that current inequities in per-capita energy consumption, rates of electric-vehicle adoption and usage of rooftop solar photovoltaics are likely to persist under the status quo.
"We suggest that the redistributive investment of public funds for the purpose of accelerating DAC participation in energy system transformations constitutes a socially optimal investment strategy—one which reflects the dramatically higher marginal utility of units of energy consumed at levels of sufficiency rather than excess," the report says.
The authors note that energy systems are highly complex and that within them technologies and policies interact with economics and social histories in unexpected ways, some of which produce large-scale systemic transformations while others do not. Energy systems are also highly embedded in city layouts, home designs, and home appliance types and the frequency with which they are used—all of which are oriented around the expectation that the delivery of energy services will not change.
There have been numerous efficiencies created in the delivery of many energy services, including space heating and cooling, refrigeration, water heating, ventilation, cooking, lighting, laundry, computing and entertainment systems, among other miscellaneous plug loads, the study says. But the size of residential homes has grown along with the penetration levels of energy-intensive appliances, and residential buildings are increasingly being used to power transportation through electric vehicles. The result is increasing usage of "time-of-use" rates, in which DACs have more limited ability to participate.
"Consequently, these communities may be more adversely impacted by these new energy pricing schemes," the study says. Wealth is a prominent driver of electricity demand, and in California the relationship between income and demand has shown that high-income groups consume more electricity than lower-income groups.
The time has come to reflect on why market-based incentive programs produce such inequitable outcomes, the study says, and program elements that were assumed to make energy access more equitable might be inadvertently responsible for unequal rates of program utilization. This is because DAC communities are more limited than non-DAC communities in available time, attention and capacity to take advantage of public programs, the study says.