Health and financial impacts of demand-side response measures differ across sociodemographic groups

Abstract

Demand-side response (DSR) measures, which facilitate the integration of high shares of intermittent renewable generation into electric grids, are gaining prominence. DSR measures, such as time-of-use (TOU) rates, charge higher rates during high-demand ‘on-peak’ times. These rates may disproportionately impact the energy bills and health of vulnerable households, defined as those who face greater energy needs combined with greater social and financial pressures. Here we examine 7,487 households that took part in a randomized control TOU pilot in the southwestern United States. We found that assignment to TOU rather than control disproportionately increases bills for households with elderly and disabled occupants, and predicts worse health outcomes for households with disabled and ethnic minority occupants than those for non-vulnerable counterparts. These results suggest that vulnerable groups should be considered separately in DSR rate design, and future pilots should seek to determine which designs most effectively avoid exacerbating existing energy injustices or creating new ones.

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Fig. 1: Mean change in mean monthly summer bills, by vulnerability group and rate assignment.

Data availability

The processed or aggregated data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Authors signed a non-disclosure agreement with the utility that provided the data analysed in this paper, and under this agreement are unable to make the raw data publicly available. Source data for Fig. 1 are provided with the paper.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank their utility partner for furnishing the data, D. Mazmanian for extensive advice and J. McPartlan for the considerable time invested in data management.

Author information

Both authors conceived the paper and designed the research. L.W. designed the analysis methods, performed the analyses and wrote and revised the paper. N.S. reviewed several drafts and made revisions.

Correspondence to Lee V. White.

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White, L.V., Sintov, N.D. Health and financial impacts of demand-side response measures differ across sociodemographic groups. Nat Energy 5, 50–60 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-019-0507-y

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