What is energy insecurity versus energy burden?

Last month, SEEA released our report, Energy Insecurity Fundamentals for the South. We believe using common metrics is essential to creating robust and prescriptive policies that address the multiple dimensions of energy insecurity.

Energy burden is one of the most common metrics used to measure the economic aspects of energy insecurity. Energy burden is a household’s residential energy costs, typically electricity, natural gas, or propane, divided by household income. The calculation should be based on annual income and cost data because of seasonal variations in energy use and income, especially for low-income households.

While energy burden can shed light on the financial aspect of energy insecurity, it does not provide a complete picture of how families manage their energy costs.

People who are unable to pay for basic energy needs such as heating, cooling, and lighting live in a state of energy insecurity. Energy insecurity highlights the many factors that influence energy access and affordability.  

Energy insecurity is a key metric for understanding the inequitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of the energy sector on residents of the Southeast. Energy insecurity calls attention to the many factors that influence energy access and affordability. Age and quality of a residence, advanced building technologies, community health and air quality, economic burden, and behavioral coping mechanisms all contribute to energy insecurity. These multiple dimensions shed light on groups who are more at risk of becoming burdened by energy costs, customers who face disruption of energy services, and the unseen costs of energy in the Southeast.

Energy insecurity helps us better understand how the generation, transmission, and consumption of energy affects communities. We can also see how energy insecurity places residents at a higher risk for health and safety threats. This framework provides a broader perspective that encompasses a wide range of factors that influence energy affordability and access as well as the long-term impacts on utility customers. Effective programs to address the inequities in the energy sector must grapple with each of these causes to be successful.

SEEA’s ongoing research and policy and program creation is grounded in our organizational value to pursue equitable solutions within the Southeast energy sector. Understanding the root causes of energy insecurity in our region helps us discover policy and program pathways that lead to an equitable energy system. Pursuing equitable solutions in the building sector requires a deeper understanding of the historical and contemporary policies, practices, and data that have led to the inequities Southerners experience today.

Learn More

We are pursuing additional research, policy, and program work to achieve a more energy secure Southeast. These resources provide additional insight on energy insecurity in the Southeast:

Questions? Contact Will Bryan or Maggie Kelley Riggins.