High levels of air pollution are forcing people inside to consume more electricity, subsequently causing even greater environmental problems by increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
This is according to a new study from researchers at Cardiff University who have shown that the effects are seen more in lower-income families and those from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The team say the results should encourage decision makers to think about how policy can prevent inequality from widening in terms of both health risks and financial hardships.
The study, which has been published in the journal Nature Energy, examined the energy consumption of over 4,000 residential buildings and 17,000 commercial buildings in the city of Phoenix, Arizona between 2013 and 2018.
The Phoenix metropolitan area has the highest air pollution levels in the United States, with pollution being generated from both natural sources, such as dust storms, and human activities such as energy generation and transport.
The energy consumption data from the buildings in Phoenix was compared to levels of pollution in the area, allowing the researchers to tell whether households with distinct income levels or from various ethnic groups responded to air pollution differently.
The results showed that higher levels of pollution were associated with higher electricity consumption in residential buildings, with increases mainly happening in the daytime.
Higher pollution levels also resulted in higher electricity consumption in commercial buildings in the retail and recreation industries.
“Our results indicate that when air pollution levels are high, people tend to reduce travelling and shift to indoor activities, which lead to more electricity consumption in general, whether it be from heating, cooling and lighting or the increase use of appliances” said lead author of the study Dr Pan He from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences.