“Saving money by saving energy for the people who need it the most.”
Utility bills are a large portion of monthly budgets among low-income families. Low-income households (at or below 80% of the area median income)— many of whom live in older housing with poor ventilation and aging, inefficient appliances and heating systems—spend on average 7.2 percent of their income on utility bills, which amounts to about $1,700 annually out of $25,000 in median household income. That is more than triple the 2.3 percent spent by higher-income households for electricity, heating and cooling. Low-income families are also vulnerable to rate increases and the least able to take conservation measures. In addition, low-income households compared to other households are less likely to have compact fluorescent bulbs and low-flow showerheads, but 25% more likely to have energy-intensive space heaters and 50% more likely to rely on window air conditioning units. A patchwork of energy service and assistance programs exists through nonprofit organizations and local, regional, and federal governments. Still, most families that struggle with finances are unaware of these programs due to language and other barriers. As a result, too many households do not take advantage of energy conservation measures because they are unaware of or unable to implement these programs.
Knitting together successful energy services programs for vulnerable populations and improving outreach and access to those programs would help low-income families save a significant amount of money, estimated at 26% of electricity costs according to one recent study. The programs could help families save a substantial amount of energy, resulting in a decrease in the amount of power generation required and a parallel improvement in air quality and reduction in the amount of pollutants that contribute to global warming. Improving access and participation in the most effective energy conservation programs would be a win-win for families struggling with gentrification pressures and monthly expenses, as well as the environment and resource conservation.
Last Fall, we worked with a group of Stanford students to research, characterize, and summarize the most successful approach to providing energy assistance to low-income families in Silicon Valley. Please see the following video summarizing that project:
Now we are ready to put what we learned into action, providing real energy solutions for families who are renting or otherwise unable to make the changes they need to reduce their energy use and utility bill payments.