Study: Staying at home may be saving energy

Shezaz Hannan

Americans are saving energy by opting to stay at home and participate in activities, such as watching Netflix and shopping online, instead of going out.

A study by Ashok Sekar, a postdoctoral fellow in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, along with Eric Williams and Roger Chen, two researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology, found that there is a positive trade-off between household activities that can be done online and a decrease in overall energy consumption.

“The study was not looking at specific activities, but (instead) averaging energy consumption at home versus traveling,” Sekar said.

The study used data from the American Time Use survey, which the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts annually. The researchers analyzed data between 2003 and 2012 to find trends in the activities in which Americans partake. These trends were compared with data on energy consumption over the same time frame.

The researchers noticed an overall decrease in American energy consumption. At the same time, they found that Americans were working from home, spending more time watching television, preparing and eating food and even sleeping more. The average time spent on all these activities correlated with the decrease in energy consumption.

Notably, the time period of the study covers the economic crash in 2008. Sekar said that while this trend could be explained by economic factors, he believes it is more a result of technology allowing people to do more from home.

“If you look at the employed population, there was a consistent increase in time spent at home,” Sekar said.

The study was also limited by the American Time Use survey data. While it is the best data available, the survey only asks respondents about one activity at a time. Thus, the data could overestimate or underestimate the trend.

While the study did not focus on trade-offs between specific activities and energy consumption, Sekar said that is something he is interested in looking into further. His current work, however, still focuses on the aggregate level of data.

“An increase in household energy consumption may mean a decrease in commercial consumption,” he said. “More people using the internet may mean an increase in consumption by servers elsewhere in the world.”

Sekar said he would also like to look into whether this trend matches what is happening in other parts of the world.

“It’s a more American trend,” he said. “This is a trend that would occur in any society that is very travel-intensive with huge commercial spaces.”

Time-use data is available in other parts of the world. The U.K. conducts similar surveys which take into account secondary and tertiary activities, meaning Sekar and his collaborators can look at more than one activity at a time. However, the U.K. survey is not done on an annual basis.

Since the study has been completed, Sekar has kept up with the time use data. As of the 2016 data, he says the trend in spending more time at home continues to increase.

So next time you want to stay at home and watch countless hours of Netflix, think of all the energy you’ll be saving.