IIf you’ve spent this summer in the US, wherever you are, you’re probably going to be pretty hot. This past July was the third July in the 128 year record temperature record kept by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, following 1936 (the hottest) and 2012. During the global heat wave, eight countries experienced July temperatures that were among their highest. -five warmest things, including Texas, in July.
But the year 2022 is only slightly more likely than the expected increase in temperature driven by global change. To adapt, people in the US are relying more on home heating systems, which are helpful but costly financially and environmentally. Here are five charts that show the nation’s precarious reliance on air conditioning.
1. Almost everyone is cooling their home these days
The US used to have one of the highest rates of domestic greenhouse gas use in the world. And it’s still growing. Air conditioning in American homes has dropped from 77% of homes in 2001 to 88% in 2020, nearly everywhere, according to research data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Most heating systems are home appliances, such as central ACs or central heat pumps, as shown below. But adoption varies by construction period: 83% of homes built before 1950 have AC, compared to 93% of homes built in the 2010s.
There are regional differences. Areas along the Pacific coast, only half of the homes have AC. But even in that climate zone, where heat waves are rolling in for days, the situation is changing because of more recent construction: 66% of homes built there in the 2010s had AC, and 39% of homes were built before 1950.
2. Americans with AC like to cool their homes
American homes are more likely to have AC than their European counterparts because air conditioning is important in some areas of the US, such as the humid South and the desert Southwest. In countries like France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, less than 5% of homes in each country have AC, according to a 2018 report from the International Energy Agency—despite the severity of the impending heat wave. in the countries.
But Americans don’t have more access to residential AC. They also have the ability to shoot, even when they are not at home. According to a TIME analysis of 2015 statistics from the EIA, the most recent data available, the average temperature was set at 74°F when no one was at home. That average dropped to about 70°F when one was at home, at night. The US Department of Energy previously recommended that summer thermostats be set at 78°F during indoor hours and 82°F at night, but later clarified that the recommendation for put the strongest number and others for showing that it is stronger. It is best to increase the temperature to 4°F at night and 7°F when leaving home.
Read more: Summers are getting too hot before they even start
But a closer look at the EIA data suggests that Americans aren’t taking that advice seriously. People with individual ACs, such as window units and portable systems, will have their temperature settings change depending on the time of day and whether someone is home. Those with central air conditioning, on the other hand, are more likely to set a certain temperature and leave it there most of the time.
There are many problems with running AC all the time, too much, and not properly. One, increased demand on the power grid, causing loss; The Texas grid agency in July asked residents to limit AC and other major appliances during record high demand. Worse, AC units contribute to global warming by releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. When AC units reach the end of their life, hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, can escape in the air conditioner, so some states began phasing them out before the Environmental Protection Agency announced it. will do so next year. Also, AC units powered by utility companies increase carbon dioxide emissions because those appliances rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity.
3. But Americans will struggle to pay
Where there is cold relief, there is also financial pain. AC power is not cheap, and for the most part, it’s completely free. By 2020, 34 million American households (27%) said they would not be able to meet their energy needs at some point in the year, according to EIA. Among them, 20% cut back on the amount of food or medicine they buy to pay their electricity bills, and 10% left their homes in extreme heat due to price concerns. In addition, 10% received disconnection notices from their utility companies, although the percentage is lower than in other years because many countries have imposed shutdown moratoriums related to the pandemic.
Buildings suffered earlier this summer due to the high cost of natural gas, which required power plants to operate. State statistics for June show the average cost of residential electricity was 15.42¢ per Kilowatt-hour that month, up from 13.85¢ a year earlier, an 11% increase. . But some areas of the US saw prices rise by 20% during that time, as the chart below shows.
Government statistics do not fully capture the cost crisis. But Bloomberg Business Week According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association (NEADA), more than 20 million American households (about one in six) are behind on their mortgage. Association (NEADA), an organization that represents state governments in securing federal funding for energy assistance programs. What’s more, NEADA says the average cost of cooling in the summer between June and September was $450 last year, and is expected to be $600 this year.
4. Protections are scattered and temporary
The federal government provides energy assistance funding to states through LIHEAP, short for Low Energy Home Energy Assistance Program. The Biden Administration more than doubled the $3.8 billion budgeted for 2022 to $8.3 billion through a provision in the American Savings Plan that allowed families to pay early bills and current bills. The extra money expires on Sept. 30, 2022, and next year’s funding will drop to $4 billion unless Congress increases it.
All states except Florida and Hawaii prohibit utility shutdowns for medically vulnerable residents who fall behind on payments. Some states have special rules for homes with babies and the elderly. But general protections for appliance shutdowns when the weather gets too hot or too cold are not uniform across the country. According to LIHEAP data, 41 states and Washington, DC have blanket protections to shut down appliances during extreme cold weather, but only 16 states and Washington, DC, have similar blanket protections for very hot weather.
According to Mark Wolfe, executive director of NEADA, the lack of safeguards is not the root cause of the foreclosure problem (they are expensive), nor are safeguards the end-all solution for struggling consumers ( because the bill doesn’t go away, and customers can cut their electricity right after the heat and not get it back before the next one hits, he said ). But when it’s too hot, serious health problems can occur, and these protections can save lives.
Read more: Weather Experts Are Trying New Ways To Reach Out To People Affected By Extreme Heat
“Governments decide how to distribute the funds over the course of a year,” Wolfe said. “Until recently, governments used 85% of the money they received for heating. The problem is, we only have enough money to reach one of the six houses that need it and on top of that, we don’t have enough to help with the heating and cooling bills.”
5. It’s changing, but slowly
The recently passed Energy Efficiency Act provides financial incentives such as tax credits to low-income households that make their homes more efficient and energy efficient. That’s the right way to optimize heating in a warming world. But Wolfe says it’s unlikely to reach low- and middle-income households who can’t afford the upfront costs.
As the chart below shows, utility bills have increased for everyone, but those at the bottom of the income brackets will feel the most, as they share a larger share of them. income to maintain electricity. Utilities often offer special payment plans, but they work best when residents have a long time to pay for the most expensive period. However, high electricity bills are increasing during the winter and summer months, giving consumers a little more relief.
“When we’re thinking about adapting to rising temperatures, we’re thinking a lot about infrastructure like seawalls and railroads, which cost hundreds of billions of dollars,” says Wolfe. “The other part is, how can we help protect families from rising temperatures?”
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