Meet The New 1%: The Tiny Sliver Of Americans Using Tons Of Energy

Energy efficiency company Opower recently mined their data to find that a very small group of people is using way more than their share of energy.

It’s been a year-and-a-half since Occupy Wall Street protesters popularized the concept of the 1%— the upper strata of America’s richest, who control a whopping 40% of the nation’s wealth. But on Outlier—the data-crunching blog maintained by energy efficiency company Opowerresearchers are drawing attention to a new class of resource hoggers: the top 1% of energy-using households who consume 4% of total residential energy.

However, the study’s findings aren’t likely to stoke a wave of activism for "redistribution" of energy (the way that growing economic inequality has made the majority of Americans interested in raising taxes on the rich). Opower’s research shows that energy use is not nearly as unevenly distributed as income is. And that means to save energy as a nation, we need to look at approaches that will reduce electricty in all households, not just focusing on cuts to the system’s heaviest users.

Analyzing the energy use of more than 8 million homes in 2011, Opower’s study incuded the following findings:

  • The top 1% of electricity-using households spend about $4,000 on electricity annually, compared to the $1,000 the average house spends.
  • Each household in the top 1% of energy users produces the same amount of pollution as 5 cars over the course of the year, as opposed to the average household’s equivalent of 1.25 cars-worth.
  • The 1% of largest homes use 2.5 times more electricity than an average size home (at 1,600 square feet).

That last piece of data makes sense: of course bigger homes use more energy. But the study found that factors other than home size could make a huge difference in a household’s energy use, including "income, occupancy, climate, construction features, and especially behavior."

For example, if a large family lives in one house, that household will use a lot of energy (but notably less energy than if every family member moved to his own house or apartment.)

And while we might want to think that high-income residents of suburban McMansions are to blame for excessive energy use, higher income people are more likely to invest in their homes’ energy-efficiency with added insulation and triple-pane windows.

Based on this variability, the study concludes that:

Large-scale energy efficiency efforts (e.g. cutting energy waste in half by 2030) can’t exclusively focus on the very highest users, for the simple reason that such homes are in limited supply (e.g. only 4% of homes). Instead, saving energy at scale requires a broad-based approach that works well for homes across the usage spectrum.

So, to save energy, we need to think harder about initiatives that reach lots of people, as opposed to focus on only the (seemingly) low-hanging fruit: people with bigger homes and lots of income.

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  • markcwells

    So people who own electric cars certainly fall into this category correct?

  • Mark Rushing

    It has already been proven that the occupy wallstreet crowd was organized and funded by the democratic party and several unions. I find it fnny that these scumbags had the time and money to take extended vacations so they could destroyproperty, cause sanitation problems, commit rapes and other crimes all while bemoaning th rich. Bottom line is democrats are communists. There is no way to legitimately study energy consumption with so many variables at play. If people are spending $4k per year on their electric bills... so friggin what. Maybe they have a welding shop out back and are actually doing something rather than sitting around whinning all the damned time about someone making too much money.

  • Anthony Kang

    Was that supposed to be some type of joke? The facts and rules don't ever apply to the Left.

  • Architect310

    So, this is
    a democratic party publication it appears.

    The second
    paragraph was the end of my interest..."(the way that growing economic
    inequality has made the majority of Americans interested in raising taxes on
    the rich)".  A blatant lie.  The interest of the "majority of
    Americans" is not taxing the wealthy as chant the democrats.  It has become anything they can get free from
    the government and anything they can get labor unions to blackmail employers
    out of.  No matter that this has given
    rise to a national debt that likely cannot ever be repaid, caused thousands of
    businesses to close their doors and the resulting unemployment, and destroyed
    and bankrupted our national and local economies.

    I am not
    wealthy, but have the common sense to know that if you raise taxes on the
    wealthy the rest of us will have less money, less employment, less of
    everything.  If they take all of the
    money from the wealthiest Americans who earned it, say everyone worth over $100
    million, it would make a very small dent in the national debt, and would not
    even pay the interest on the debt but for about 14 months. And when they are
    out of money, we will all be broke;  No
    more government handouts to Americans, foreigners, illegal aliens, or anyone

    I will be
    unsubscribing from your not so hidden agenda, a publication that apparently has
    little or no interest related to energy or other conservation.

  • Anthony Kang

     Exactly. An utterly pathetic piece but simply par for the course for the Left. How much SHOULD they be using, Mr. Stone? And why are you working for an evil, eeevil corporation (as all capitalist enterprises are) simply concerned with profits over people, Mr. Stone?? Just chasing the almighty dollar every day? Go and help the poor or something. You've sold out to The Man, man.

  • Ted Fagenson

    Home energy efficiency services available to the masses is already within reach.  Heating and cooling a house contributes to roughly 50% of residential energy consumption. Simply swap out an existing thermostat with a network thermostat.  There are cloud services like EcoFactor's that provide automatic guidance to consumers to lower the AC/heating portion of their energy bill by as much as 20%.  Very low equipment and installation costs with high yielding, on-going energy savings month after month.   Large scale energy efficiency without much effort or cost. 

  • Malafactor

    We could simply produce more energy, much better than conservation. From a point of civilizations, ones that are destined for collapse are the ones that go to conservationism.

  • Uberblue

    There's a difference between conservation and energy efficiency.  What we need is energy efficiency.  Why wouldn't we want to do more work with less energy?  Everyone's standard of living stays the same, the cost for that standard of living goes down, and people have more disposable income.  

  • YoLaTengo

    We have global industrialization which is unrivaled in human history, based upon the use of nonrenewable resources.  Conservation is the only hope for saving something that resembles the civilization we've created (not saying this is a good or bad thing).