New research links two of the biggest drivers of global change today: the population’s rapid aging and the planet’s rising heat.
The research, among the first to explore how residential energy use changes over the human lifespan, finds that we use more energy as we age, that local climate changes energy-demand patterns, and that demand due to warmer temperatures spikes among the elderly.
Hossein Estiri, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Laboratory of Computer Science and one of the new study’s authors, said the trend is separate from others also driving up residential energy demand, like larger homes that house fewer people. When those factors are added together, he expects an “amplification of effects.”
“We think it’ll be beyond our expectations and put a lot of pressure on energy supplies,” said Estiri, who is also an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School.
The work, conducted with Emilio Zagheni of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research and published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, uses new statistical methodology to extrapolate individual energy usage from U.S. Energy Information Administration’s Residential Energy Consumption Surveys conducted in 1987, 1990, 2005, and 2009.
The research creates and tracks “pseudo cohorts” by linking data from different age groups in each of the surveys. It shows that residential energy use climbs with age, starting when young adults leave the family home in their late teens or early 20s. Consumption remains flat until individuals reach their 30s and then climbs to a peak in their mid-50s, roughly coinciding with the end of family rearing. From 55 to 64 is another period of slow growth, with consumption increasing rapidly after age 70.