Research Highlights - March 2018

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Researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology have identified a positive side-effect from the rise in online shopping, our consumption of streaming video, and employees working from home. Despite increasing the amount of residential energy demand, declining travel and less use of non-residential space was responsible for a net 1,700 trillion bTU in energy savings for the United States in 2012, or 1.8 percent of the national total. The analysis, published recently in the journal Joule, reflects how advances in information technology are changing the American lifestyle, particularly for those under the age of 65.

A decade of American Time Use Surveys revealed that Americans spent on average an extra eight days at home in 2012 compared to 2003, 1 day less traveling, and one week less in non-residential buildings. The greatest change was seen in people ages eighteen to twenty-four, who spent 70 percent more time at home compared to the general population. People over sixty-five were the only group to spend more time outside the home in 2012 compared to 2003. When these behavioral changes were mapped to energy use, overall it accounted for a 480 trillion bTU increase in energy used at home and a 1,000 trillion bTU and 1,200 trillion bTU decrease in energy used for non-residential and transportation spaces, respectively.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons for these lifestyle changes, but the authors suggest that the trends reflect advances in information and communication technology that have led to increased video watching and computer use, and better work-from-home options

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducts the American Time Use Survey each year. About 11,000 people are asked to record how they allocate their time. The authors say that the data are reliable and comparable to other datasets, such as Nielsen surveys.

They are planning further work to examine lifestyle changes in other countries and specific activities.


Joule, January 4, 2018, “Changes in Time Use and Their Effect on Energy Consumption in the United States,” by Ashok Sekar, Eric Williams, and Roger Chen.  © 2018 Elsevier Inc.  All rights reserved.

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