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Unveiling hidden energy poverty using the energy equity gap

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Abstract: Income-based energy poverty metrics ignore people’s behavior patterns, particularly reducing energy consumption to limit financial stress. We investigate energy-limiting behavior in low-income households using a residential electricity consumption dataset. We first determine the outdoor temperature at which households start using cooling systems, the inflection temperature. Our relative energy poverty metric, the energy equity gap, is defined as the difference in the inflection temperatures between low and high-income groups. In our study region, we estimate the energy equity gap to be between 4.7–7.5 °F (2.6–4.2 °C). Within a sample of 4577 households, we found 86 energy-poor and 214 energy-insecure households. In contrast, the income-based energy poverty metric, energy burden (10% threshold), identified 141 households as energy-insecure. Only three households overlap between our energy equity gap and the income-based measure. Thus, the energy equity gap reveals a hidden but complementary aspect of energy poverty and insecurity.

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