According to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “roughly 27% of all U.S. households … have had difficulty paying energy bills or have had to keep their homes at an unsafe temperature because of energy cost concerns.” And energy bills continue to increase in many regions.

Utilities are ramping up efforts to improve energy equity, but many haven’t established a plan. According to ICF’s 2022 Utility Executive Survey, energy equity and affordability is a clear priority, with 96% of utility respondents expecting to have a strategy in place for energy equity and affordability within the next 5 years. But only 29% currently have a strategy.

Fortunately, Copper Labs can help utilities better address energy poverty by making the most of existing infrastructure.


How energy poverty is affecting US households

The 2020 data from the EIA and the National Energy Assistance  Directors’ Association (NEADA’s) April 2023 End of Winter Energy Update offer startling statistics on energy poverty and how it’s affecting US households. A few key takeaways are highlighted below.


Families can’t maintain safe temperatures

According to the EIA, 5 million US households reported that they couldn’t afford to heat or air condition their homes at all and 6 million reported that they couldn’t afford to use the heating or cooling equipment enough to keep the house a safe temperature. And in some cases, that led to medical crises. In 2020, “1.4 million households (1%) reported that someone in the household needed medical attention because their home was kept at an unsafe temperature.”

While concerning, this data shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise given that “for the second year in a row, the cost of winter heating has risen faster than the overall rate of inflation,” according to NEADA. It’s now at the “highest level in more than 10 years.” And NEADA, which oversees the low-income home energy assistance program (LIHEAP), saw the “highest increase in applications for LIHEAP since 2009 and the highest total rate of applications since 2011.”


Certain households are affected more than others

Data from the EIA tells us that energy poverty isn’t affecting all households equally. According to its latest data, groups that reported higher instances of energy insecurity include:

  • Lower income households
  • Households with children
  • Renters
  • Households where respondents self-identified as Black or African American or as Hispanic or Latino


Households are more in debt to utilities than ever

According to NEADA’s data, one out of six families in the US were behind on their electric bills at the end of January 2023. That’s about 20.5 million households in the country, and last year it was about 19 million. Natural gas debts are a problem too, with about 13 million households being behind on their bills.

And NEADA believes that the country is seeing the “highest level of arrearages on record.” At the end of January 2023, consumers owed $17.8 billion to utilities, which is up from $15.9 billion at the end of January 2022.


Energy prices continue to increase

According to NEADA, “energy prices are increasing on average faster than the rate of inflation.”

In fact, US energy utilities requested record-setting rate increases in both 2021 and 2022, as explained in S&P Global’s Rate requests by energy utilities hit another all-time record in 2022. This increase in prices comes from a variety of factors, including:

  • Extreme weather and natural disasters
  • Geopolitical conflicts
  • Evolving energy policies
  • Rate-based investments from utilities (including smart meter deployments)


How Copper Labs can help


Giving customers timely data and insights

Giving customers access to near-real-time data gives customers more control over their energy bills. Showing them how much energy they’re using can help them make more informed decisions about when and how to use energy.

More specifically, the high-resolution data Copper unlocks allows it to provide mid-cycle energy-use forecasts and high-bill alerts so customers can be more in control of their energy use and associated bills. With these forecasts and alerts, customers aren’t surprised by a high bill and can plan ahead or choose to conserve energy. To learn more about the high-bill alert feature, see Copper Lab’s press release on the topic.

Copper’s platform can also share personalized energy-efficiency tips with customers and recommend relevant utility programs and resources to them.


Helping utilities make the most of existing infrastructure

Because Copper uses existing utility metering infrastructure, our solutions can improve utility metering at a relatively low cost compared to installing smart meters. As we explain in our blog Keeping It Simple: The Future Of Utility Metering and in our Utility Dive article Falling out of love with AMI: Why we need a new approach to smart metering, smart meters are expensive to buy, install, and maintain. And updating the meter technology requires replacing each meter, making any upgrades costly and time intensive. All these costs can increase rates for the customers, which can further exacerbate energy poverty.

To learn more, check out our Utility Dive article In the fight against energy poverty, utilities should make the most of consumption data, or contact us to see how we can help your utility meet its equity goals.