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The Link Between Energy Efficiency and Social Justice

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Much good has come from the world’s ability to harness energy. But there is a divide in energy accessibility and affordability that goes under the radar of most Americans. A few facts from the U.S. Energy Information Administration sheds light:

  • Nearly one-third of U.S. households struggle to afford their energy bills.
  • One in five of those struggling households withholds necessities such as food or medicine to pay for heat or electricity.
  • About 14% have received a disconnection notice.
  • 10% keep their thermostats at unsafe levels to reduce costs.
  • Of those struggling, about 50% are African American and 40% are Hispanic.

People can’t thrive when they don’t have access to affordable and reliable energy. World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, said it well, “When people don’t have access to electricity, their world of possibilities narrows.”

Energy is not only essential to meeting basic human needs, but to people’s physical well-being, emotional development, and social mobility. Yet too many households struggle to balance energy bills with other necessities. Households with small children, senior citizens, and the disabled are among those that require higher energy needs but are too often those whose energy costs are the highest in proportion to their income. Research from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy states that income-qualified households spend up to 7.2% of their income paying energy bills, which is three times as much as more affluent households.

In addition, many of these energy-disadvantaged households are renters with the inability to invest in better insulation and Energy Star appliances and the cost to upgrade to even energy-efficient light bulbs is more than can be afforded.

Social Justice/Energy Justice

The term energy justice is a fairly new one. University of Michigan Energy Institute Professor, Tony Rheames, a researcher on the growing energy divide between rich and poor Americans, defines energy justice as the fair and equitable access to energy technology as well as the fair and equitable participation in energy decisions. It includes the concept of energy as a basic right because it is intrinsic to everything done in life.

Now that climate change is being acknowledged and the need to not only conserve energy but to switch to cleaner energy sources such as solar and wind is taking hold, the desire to link energy efficiency with social justice is becoming more prevalent.

The Green New Deal includes aspirations to reduce emissions and improve symptoms of energy inequality. The transition to cleaner energy should come about in a way that is mindful of the needs of vulnerable communities, including those workers who could be displaced in the switch from fossil fuels such as with the closing of coal mines, for example.

The renewable energy movement is growing, and social justice will be an important part of it. The benefits of decarbonizing while realizing greater social equity would be beneficial for all of humanity.

Right now, more efficient ways of living are often out of reach for many people. But there is a way to gain control of energy costs affordably. An artificial intelligence tool such as Akeptus monitors home energy use, eliminates waste, and saves more money than it costs. Akeptus is just one way to take back control of energy costs without sacrificing comfort.

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