Rural Energy Use And The Challenges For Energy Conservation

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Rural Energy Use And The Challenges For Energy Conservation

Transcript Of Rural Energy Use And The Challenges For Energy Conservation

POLICY BRIEF
BRIEF 17/NOV 2013

RURAL ENERGY USE AND THE CHALLENGES FOR ENERGY CONSERVATION AND EFFICIENCY
By Matteo Muratori (Ohio State University)

Dependence on fossil fuels and concerns about greenhouse gas emissions are spurring interest in the use of policy and technology solutions to curb and rationalize energy consumption and reduce U.S. dependency on foreign fossil fuels. Two solutions are proposed to mitigate the problems associated with a fossil fuel economy: largescale use of alternative and renewable energy sources, and significant improvements in energy conservation and efficiency. Improvements in energy use (including reduced environmental impact) and conservation are an absolute necessity to assure a sustainable energy future. However, policies and technologies must appropriately influence their target stakeholders.
This Policy Brief focuses on energy conservation and efficiency, with particular focus on personal transportation and residential energy consumption in rural areas. Residential and transportation energy consumption results from a combination of infrastructure and behavior factors, which make rural and urban areas quite different, calling for further investigation on technological measures and policies to promote energy efficiency and conservation. The most prominent implications found are:
1. Rural households are about 30 percent bigger, but use only 10 percent more energy. Therefore, rural households are generally more energy efficient per square foot than urban households. This means that improved energy efficiencies may be more difficult to achieve than in urban households.
2. Rural households have fewer energy options. Natural gas is less commonly used for space heating in rural areas, likely because the natural gas infrastructure is not as well developed in rural areas.
3. Rural energy use is related to the rural lifestyle. Most often and in many ways, this lifestyle is a choice.
4. There are different vehicles used in rural settings than in urban settings and they are used in different ways. In rural

communities, there is a greater use of larger vehicles, such as pick-up trucks. While there are many advances being made by car manufacturers in alternative transportation, these are largely in smaller passenger vehicles. Where options exist for larger vehicles, such as pick-up trucks and medium duty trucks, the lack of a rural infrastructure, may make adoption more difficult (i.e. adoption of natural gas vehicles, which currently are prospected to be a cheaper alternative to gasoline, in rural areas might be more difficult).
5. Nine out of ten households in the United States are in urban settings, making it harder to justify federal and national investments and policies directly oriented to reduce rural energy consumption.
The differences in energy consumption in rural areas is caused by a diversity of factors, ranging from household characteristics, socioeconomic dynamics, and environmental conditions. The typical image of a rural house is of an old, large farmhouse. Rural households are indeed larger than urban residences. On average, rural homes are 30 percent larger than urban homes, and they are typically detached houses, which means that they are more exposed to weather conditions and do not benefit from radiant heat from adjacent buildings. On the other hand, unlike the stereotype, rural houses are typically newer, compared to their urban counterparts. This leads to a difference of about $400 in the average energy-related annual expenditure of American households.
Second, families living in rural areas drive about 7,000 more miles annually than their urban counterparts, which results in an excess of about 330 gallons of gasoline consumed every year. Thus, increasing energy efficiency and conservation in both rural and urban settings requires policy incentives that respond to the different conditions in these areas.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration publishes yearly projections based on known technology and technological and demographic trends. According to such projections, overall U.S.

BRIEF 17/NOV 2013

energy consumption will grow at an average Focusing on the residential sector, 19 percent disparity. “There are a lot of things that go

annual rate of 0.3 percent from 2010

of the U.S. population lives in rural areas

into it”, says Stephanie Battles, director of

through 2035. EIA does not expect the U.S. (Census 2010 Population Statistics), where the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s

to return to the levels of energy demand

the majority of the energy is consumed.

Energy Consumption Division. Several

growth experienced in the 20 years prior

Urban areas include all urbanized areas

policy incentives are available, which help

to the 2008- 2009 recession because

(over 50,000 population) and Urban Clusters promote greater energy efficiency, including

of more moderate projected economic

(2,500 to 49,999 population) as defined

the market penetration of high efficiency

growth and population growth, coupled

by the Bureau of the Census in the 2000

appliances (energy star rated appliances)

with increasing levels of energy efficiency.

Decennial Census. Significant differences are and fluorescent/led lighting. However, greater

Projected energy demand for transportation noticed between rural and urban settings,

efficiency is not always accompanied by lower

grows at an annual rate of 0.1 percent from ranging from spending patterns, education, energy use overall. For instance, square

2010 through 2035 according to EIA, and

living habits, and energy consumption.

footage plays a crucial role, and homes

electricity demand grows by 0.7 percent per

built since 1990 are on average 27 percent

year, primarily as a result of rising energy

The U.S. Energy Information Administration

larger than homes built in earlier decades.

consumption in the building sector.

administers periodically the Residential

In addition, while appliances are more

Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) to a

efficient on average now than 10 years ago,

For some end-uses, current federal and state nationally representative sample of housing households often have a greater number of

energy requirements and incentives play a

units. These data are analyzed and results

electrical devices.

continuing role in requiring more efficient

show that residential per household energy

technologies. Energy consumption per capita consumption in rural areas is about 10

Additionally, even if urban traffic might lead

is expected to decline by an average of 0.6 percent higher compared to urban areas,

to extremely high fuel consumption, on a

percent per year from 2010 to 2035 (see

with electricity 50 percent higher (15,258

per capita basis more energy is consumed

Figure 1). As shown in Figure 1, the amount kWh/year compared to 10,290 kWh/year),

in rural areas to move people around. This

of energy consumed per capita has been

while number of household members

is mainly due to the longer distances driven

fairly steady since about 1980, with a slight remain basically unchanged (an average of and a lack of public transit alternatives in

decline in recent years. Even though we are 2.69 people per household for rural areas, rural areas. According to EIA data, families

living in larger homes, driving more miles,

compared to 2.66 in urban areas).

living in rural areas drive about 7,000 more

and using more electrical devices, we are

miles annually than their urban counterparts,

actually consuming less energy because

This is due to several reasons, most

which results in an average annual excess

of improvements in efficiency and energy

evidently a higher square footage. Several

of about 330 gallons of gasoline (assuming

conservation techniques (especially true

externalities play a significant role in this

an average MPG of 21 miles per gallon).

for passenger vehicles).

Urban areas win again the match

Additionally, energy intensity

thanks to public transportation

of the U.S. economy,

and shorter distances, allowing

measured as energy

people to commute by bike or

consumption per real

simply walk (also carpooling is

dollar of GDP, has steadily

favored, since people live close

declined and is projected

to each other).

to decrease by an average

of 2.1 percent per year

Vast amounts of energy could be

from 2010 to 2035. This

saved if cars were driven fewer

indicates better energy

miles, if public transportation

efficiency in all segments

was more widely used, and if

of American life, and a

homes were smaller and more

transition from an energy-

efficient.

intensive manufacturing

industry to less energy-

There are numerous policy and

consuming industrial and

technology solutions that could

commercial processes.

Figure 1. Energy use per capita and per dollar of GDP, 1980-2035. From EIA, Annual Energy

help address these issues,

Outlook 2012.

BRIEF 17/NOV 2013

The amount of energy consumed per capita has been fairly steady since about 1980, with a slight decline in recent years. Even though we are living in larger homes, driving more miles, and using more electrical devices, we are actually consuming less energy because of improvements in
efficiency and energy conservation techniques (especially true for passenger vehicles).

including mandating better gas mileage for cars, providing incentives to increase the market penetration of advanced highly efficient vehicles (hybrids, electric, and others), improving the insulation in homes, increasing the energy efficiency of appliances, and the adoption of higher efficiency lighting. Smart grid technologies could also be used to better manage the distribution and use of energy. None of these solutions alone can address the disparity between rural and urban energy use though. Therefore, a well-balanced mix of policies needs to be in place.
Energy is a key component of people’s life, which has major socio-economic bearings. Promotion of energy conservation and efficiency measures in residential and transportation sectors heavily impact life habits of the residents. When dealing with energy conservation, two main approaches are possible: increase people density (i.e. smaller households and public transportation/ carpooling); or increase efficiency of energy use (i.e. high-efficiency appliances and lights, and improved vehicles).
Currently, the energy policies promoted in the United States are trying to increase people density in the personal transportation sector while there are attempts at improving energy efficiency in both the transportation and residential sector. Nevertheless, significant differences are present when comparing urban and rural energy consumption, both for transportation and residential consumption.
First, different attitude towards energy use and different needs are noted, especially

for the transportation sector, where scarcely populated areas present peculiar characteristics and public transportation is impractical. Rural families drive more miles, and generally use larger vehicles. On average rural households, which are newer, consume more energy. Nevertheless, they are generally more energy efficient per square foot than urban households, meaning that improved rural household energy efficiencies may be more difficult to achieve than in urban households. Yet, energy comes in different forms, and rural households tend to consume substantially more electricity.
Second, the majority of energy is consumed in urban areas, even if per capita consumption in rural areas is higher. Yet, solutions involving increases in people density—which significantly affects people’s lifestyle—does not apply for rural areas. Mass public transportation is unfeasible. Rural residents often choose to live in rural settings, where they can acquire larger properties, and they accept the trade-off of longer commutes to work. There are physical and geographic realities that make rural lifestyles more energy intensive. In addition, rural households have fewer energy options. Natural gas is less common for space heating, likely because the natural gas infrastructure is not as well developed in rural areas. The same happens for transportation, with a lot of focus given to highly efficient passenger vehicles, natural gas vehicles, and electric cars. These, due to different final purposes, lack of infrastructure, or limited driving range do not cope well with rural transportation needs.

Nonetheless, smart policies and innovative technologies can be used to reduce the overall energy consumption. Often a lot of attention is given to electricity and gasoline consumption, while a complete picture of the residential and transportation energy consumption should be analyzed to optimize and rationalize the overall national energy use. In order to equally promote energy efficiency and conservation in rural and urban settings further investigation on technological measures and policies is needed.

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Development Centers to provide information about the increasingly contentious and complex agricultural and rural development U.S. policy issues.
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The POLICY BRIEFS are published by the National Agricultural & Rural Development Policy Center (NARDeP) after a blind peer review process. NARDeP was formed by the Regional Rural Development Centers in response to the increasingly contentious and complex agricultural and rural development policy issues facing the U.S. NARDeP is funded by USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) under a competitive grant (Number 2012-70002-19385), and works with the land-grant college and university system and other national organizations, agencies, and experts to develop and deliver timely policy-relevant information. NARDeP is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer. For information about NARDeP, visit the website: nardep.info.

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