Carbon Footprint of Household Energy Use in the US
This study uses data on ∼93 million individual homes to perform the most comprehensive study of greenhouse gases from residential energy use in the United States. We provide nationwide rankings of carbon intensity of homes in states and ZIP codes and offer correlations between affluence, floor space, and emissions. Scenarios demonstrate this sector cannot achieve the Paris Agreement 2050 target by decarbonizing electricity production alone. Meeting this target will also necessitate a broad portfolio of zero emission energy solutions and behavioral change associated with housing preferences. To support policy, we estimate the reductions in floor space and increases in density needed to build low-carbon communities.
Residential energy use accounts for roughly 20% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States. Using data on 93 million individual households, we estimate these GHGs across the contiguous United States and clarify the respective influence of climate, affluence, energy infrastructure, urban form, and building attributes (age, housing type, heating fuel) in driving these emissions. A ranking by state reveals that GHGs (per unit floor space) are lowest in Western US states and highest in Central states. Wealthier Americans have per capita footprints ∼25% higher than those of lower-income residents, primarily due to larger homes. In especially affluent suburbs, these emissions can be 15 times higher than nearby neighborhoods.
If the electrical grid is decarbonized, then the residential housing sector can meet the 28% emission reduction target for 2025 under the Paris Agreement. However, grid decarbonization will be insufficient to meet the 80% emissions reduction target for 2050 due to a growing housing stock and continued use of fossil fuels (natural gas, propane, and fuel oil) in homes. Meeting this target will also require deep energy retrofits and transitioning to distributed low-carbon energy sources, as well as reducing per capita floor space and zoning denser settlement patterns.
Editor’s Note: This is a synopsis of a highly detailed, comprehensive research study. You can read the entire document at PNAS.