Nav: Home

Shifts to renewable energy can drive up energy poverty, PSU study finds

July 12, 2019

Efforts to shift away from fossil fuels and replace oil and coal with renewable energy sources can help reduce carbon emissions but do so at the expense of increased inequality, according to a new Portland State University study.

Julius McGee, assistant professor of sociology in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and his co-author, Patrick Greiner, an assistant professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University, found in a study of 175 nations from 1990 to 2014 that renewable energy consumption reduces carbon emissions more effectively when it occurs in a context of increasing inequality. Conversely, it reduces emissions to a lesser degree when occurring in a context of decreasing inequality.

Their findings, published recently in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, support previous claims by researchers who argue that renewable energy consumption may be indirectly driving energy poverty. Energy poverty is when a household has no or inadequate access to energy services such as heating, cooling, lighting, and use of appliances due to a combination of factors: low income, increasing utility rates, and inefficient buildings and appliances.

McGee said that in nations like the United States where fossil fuel energy is substituted for renewable energy as a way to reduce carbon emissions, it comes at the cost of increased inequality. That's because the shift to renewable energy is done through incentives such as tax subsidies. This reduces energy costs for homeowners who can afford to install solar panels or energy-efficient appliances, but it also serves to drive up the prices of fossil fuel energy as utility companies seek to recapture losses. That means increased utility bills for the rest of the customers, and for many low-income families, increased financial pressure, which creates energy poverty.

"People who are just making ends meet and can barely afford their energy bills will make a choice between food and their energy," McGee said. "We don't think of energy as a human right when it actually is. The things that consume the most energy in your household -- heating, cooling, refrigeration -- are the things you absolutely need."

Alternatively, in poorer nations, renewable sources of electricity have been used to alleviate energy poverty. In rural areas in southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, a solar farm can give an agrarian community access to electricity that historically never had access to energy, McGee said.

"That's not having any impact on carbon dioxide emissions because those rural communities never used fossil fuels in the first place," he said.

The study recommends that policymakers consider implementing policy tools that are aimed at both reducing inequality and reducing emissions. McGee and Greiner said such policies would both incentivize the implementation of renewable energy resources, while also protecting the populations that are most vulnerable to energy poverty.

"We really need to think more holistically about how we address renewable energy," McGee said. "We need to be focusing on addressing concerns around housing and energy poverty before we actually think about addressing climate change within the confines of a consumer sovereignty model."
-end-


Portland State University

Related Renewable Energy Articles:

Lighting the path to renewable energy
Professor Mahesh Bandi of Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) has co-developed a novel, standardized way of quantifying and comparing these variations in solar power.
How much energy storage costs must fall to reach renewable energy's full potential
The cost of energy storage will be critical in determining how much renewable energy can contribute to the decarbonization of electricity.
Renewable and nonrenewable energy in Myanmar's economic growth
An international group of scientists including a researcher from Ural Federal University developed a mathematical model that describes the influence of regenerative and non-regenerative energy sources on the economic growth of Myanmar.
Research shows black plastics could create renewable energy
New study looks at how plastics can be recycled and could help reduce plastic waste.
Shifts to renewable energy can drive up energy poverty, PSU study finds
Efforts to shift away from fossil fuels and replace oil and coal with renewable energy sources can help reduce carbon emissions but do so at the expense of increased inequality, according to a new Portland State University study
More Renewable Energy News and Renewable Energy Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...