Heating with Justice: barriers and solutions to a just energy transition in cold climates

Published: 8 August 2023| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/cjdbprmfck.1
Claire McKenna


Residential heat pumps could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but increase energy burdens, the proportion of income households spent 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.


Steps to reproduce

See Manuscript and Supplemental Experimental Procedures (link forthcoming)


University of Michigan


Energy Efficiency, Energy Application, Cleaner Technology, Energy Poverty


U.S. Department of Energy

University of Michigan