back to all publications

Heating with justice: Barriers and solutions to a just energy transition in cold climates

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
September, 2024

Residential heat pumps could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but increase energy burdens, the proportion of income households spend on utility bills. We analyze utility bills, thermostat settings, and energy burdens for a sample of 51 households in Michigan, half below median income. We recruit a contractor to conduct energy assessments of these households and provide them with energy retrofit recommendations, including estimated costs and savings. We find that low-income households choose similar temperature setpoints to higher-income households but live in less efficient homes. Below-median income households, which today experience a median energy burden of 6%, would see it rise to 10% if they shifted to electric heat pumps from natural gas. Weatherization could offset this increase, bringing burdens down to pre-electrification levels. However, median payback is 24 years, making retrofits infeasible for the poorest. Our results are indicative of an energy poverty trap that could hinder an equitable energy transition.

Claire McKenna
Carina Gronlund
Research Areas

Energy burden, Heat pump, Electrification, Energy efficiency, Energy audit, Retrofit

Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
Full Citation

McKenna, C., Gronlund, C., & Vaishnav, P. (2024). Heating with justice: Barriers and solutions to a just energy transition in cold climates. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 208, 107699.