Extreme heat impacts both health and the wallets of Americans. With the global climate changing drastically, Americans can expect increased energy costs as temperatures rise. The US is no exception, and in 2024, Americans will pay more for cooling

Extreme heat impacts both health and the wallets of Americans. With the global climate changing drastically

Increasing Cooling Costs

This summer, the average cost of keeping homes cool in the US is expected to rise by almost 8%. According to the NEADA and the Center for Energy, Poverty, and Climate, experts predict that cooling costs will average $719 from June to September 2024, compared to $661 for the same period last year. This trend has been consistent over the past decade.

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“Receiving a high bill is very difficult,” says Professor Alan Barreca from the University of California, Los Angeles, the lead author of a study on the impact of rising summer temperatures and power outages. “In the end, you think: ‘Oh, do I need to cut other expenses or just not pay and try to juggle bills?'”

Impact on Low-Income Households

A 2015 study by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that approximately 1 in 5 US households reported reducing or forgoing some necessities, such as food and medicine, to cover energy costs. About 14% of surveyed households reported receiving a disconnection notice, and a little over 1 in 10 said they maintained unhealthy or unsafe temperatures in their homes to avoid energy consumption.

The rising costs particularly burden low-income households, which, according to the US Department of Energy, spend a higher percentage of their income on home energy expenses or have a higher “energy burden” than others. Families living in the South are disproportionately affected by extreme heat. Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas top the list of states with the highest energy burdens among low-income households.

A study showed that low-income households are at greater risk of power outages several months after temperatures reach 95 degrees Fahrenheit compared to other times of the year.

Possible Solutions

Some solutions have been proposed at the federal level through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which helps low-income families cover heating and cooling costs. However, funding for this program was cut by $2 billion for the 2024 fiscal year.

“The person I think about is a single elderly person living on a fixed income in Southern California with a Social Security income of $1500 a month, and there’s no room for maneuvering,” says an expert, explaining who is most affected by the rising energy costs in the summer.

Only 17 states and the District of Columbia have some protections against power disconnections during the hottest months of the year. Forgoing air conditioning can be harmful to many: according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, extreme heat is more deadly than any other weather-related cause of death in the US in 2023.

Many states and cities are combating extreme heat by setting up cooling centers. However, attendance at these places can be low, which may threaten their future. Critics even call cooling centers a short-term solution since many families find it challenging to reach them, and they certainly won’t live in a library during hot periods.

What to Do?

Advocates are calling for more significant changes, including more local programs that provide energy bill discounts for low-income families and updating building codes to require air conditioning in apartments.

Another solution is to modernize homes to be energy-efficient, as is common in Europe. While this will be costly initially, it will ultimately save millions of dollars. It’s something worth considering now.

Photo from open sources

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