Shifts to renewable energy can drive up energy poverty, 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.

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 , 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 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 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 because those never used 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 ," McGee said. "We need to be focusing on addressing concerns around housing and before we actually think about addressing climate change within the confines of a consumer sovereignty model."

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More information: Julius Alexander McGee et al, Renewable energy injustice: The socio-environmental implications of renewable energy consumption, Energy Research & Social Science (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.erss.2019.05.024
Citation: Shifts to renewable energy can drive up energy poverty, study finds (2019, July 12) retrieved 23 October 2019 from
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Jul 13, 2019
It's all a fraud. "Climate change", even the entire environmental movement, was designed by the Democratic Rackets to try to destroy Republican industries. The denaturing of the weather is not "climate change", it's caused by chemtrails. The Democratic Rackets, though, insist on claiming it's caused by "fossil fuels". The Democratic Rackets count on their followers largely if not universally being morons who believe what their leaders tell them and who are eaten up with the desire to hate, which the Democratic Rackets direct toward Republicans.
In converting wind energy to electricity, windmills take away the ability of wind to do work. Part of that is moderating temperatures. Areas downwind of windmill farms are warmer than even "climate change" is accused of! The vast, reflective surfaces of solar farms, among other things, prevent clouds from forming and superheat dust in the air. They are causing city like "heat island effects".

Jul 19, 2019
I am getting used to the silly comments from Deniers, and do not mind their rants now that it is obvious they are losing the battle of facts. Anyone who calls wind turbine generators "windmills" is still in one of the previous centuries.

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