While this online life that a younger population has embraced has lead to an increase in residential energy demand, it’s significantly decreased the amount of energy used in non-residential spaces, like offices or malls.
A paper published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Joule suggests all this Netflix and chilling was responsible for 1.7 quadrillion British thermal units (bTU) — or the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit — in energy savings in 2012. That’s approximately 1.8 percent of the United States’ total of energy used that year.
The study’s authors analyzed a decade of American Time Use Surveys to reveal how advances in information technology have led to some major lifestyle changes. Americans spent an additional eight days at home, one day less traveling, and one week less in non-residential building in 2012 compared to 2003.
People ages 18 to 24 spent 70 percent more time at home compared to the general population, while people over 65 were the only group to spend more time outside. This makes millennials the biggest drivers for this behavioral change.
Ashok Sekar, the first author of the paper and a postdoctoral fellow studying consumer energy use and policy at the University of Texas at Austin, says with this information at hand, energy providers and researchers can hone in on advancing energy efficiency in homes rather than public spaces.
“We did expect to see net energy decrease, but we had no idea of the magnitude,” Sekar says in a statement. “This work raises awareness of the connection between lifestyle and energy. Now that we know people are spending more time at home, more focus could be put on improving residential energy efficiency.”
While it’s difficult to say exactly what caused these changes in the lifestyles of Americans, the researchers in this paper suggest it’s most likely due the connectivity the age of the internet has brought about. In future research, Sekar hopes to take a closer look at the specific behavioral changes that have lead to the most energy savings.
“Right now, the analysis is a comparison only at the sector level,” he says in a press release. “I would like to disaggregate even further and think about energy trade-offs at activity level for, e.g., going to restaurants versus ordering food online,” he says. “I’d like to include details we have not been able to capture.”
Until then, there’s never been a better excuse to stay in bed and surf the web.