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Americans are spending more time at home, which increased residential energy use, but still saved a total of 1,700 trillion bTU of energy, or 1.8% of the total energy use, in the United States mainly because of less traveling to offices and stores.
February 15, 2018

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The rise of online shopping, streaming video, and working from homes makes us isolated and lazy. But it has a surprising upside. By staying indoors, Americans are saving lots of energy, a new study finds.

The paper published in Joule says that Americans on average spent 8 more days at home in 2012 than in 2003. This increased energy use at home, but still saved a total of 1,700 trillion BTU of energy, or 1.8% of the total energy use, in the United States in 2012 mainly because of less traveling to offices and stores.

There has been a significant change in American lifestyles in the past decade. Technology has made it much easier to work, shop and entertain at home. The number of miles Americans drove increased steadily from 6,200 miles per person in 1975 to a peak of 10,100 miles in 2008, but after that it has steadily fallen to 9,500 miles in 2014. “Less time in vehicles implies more time being spent elsewhere, presumably at home,” researchers from the University of Texas write in the study.

To figure out how this maps to changes in energy use, the researchers analyzed data from The American Time Use Survey, conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to find changes in the amount of time Americans spent on different activities in 2003 and 2012. Then they estimated energy used by the time spent in different buildings and vehicles based on average residential, commercial, and transportation energy use numbers for those years.

They found that Americans are spending more time at home working, watching television, shopping online, and spending leisure time on their computers. The behavior change is especially seen in 18- 24-year-olds, who spent 70 percent more time at home compared to the general population.

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Annual Changes and 2003 Total Average Time Spent on Select Activities for the US Working Population from 2003 to 2012



This increased time at home was accompanied by roughly 6.7 fewer days in offices and stores, and by 1.2 fewer days driving per year.

Driving is the most energy-intense activity per minute that people can engage in, the researchers say. Operating offices and retail outlets also drains an immense amount of energy.

So the higher residential energy use is more than offset by the energy savings in running commercial buildings and transportation. while residential energy use went up by 480 trillion BTU, there was a 1,000 trillion BTU and 1,200 trillion bTU decrease in energy used for non-residential and transportation, respectively.

The balance might shift as driving gets less energy-intensive because of increasing vehicle efficiencies, electric cars, and car sharing. People are also using more energy-consuming devices at home. “Given these trends, additional emphasis on improving the efficiency of consumer electronics and home appliances might be warranted,” the researchers write.

Source: Ashok Sekar, Eric Williams, Roger Chen. Changes in Time Use and Their Effect on Energy Consumption in the United States. Joule. 2018.

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