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In 2020, 27% of U.S. households had difficulty meeting their energy needs

U.S> household energy insecurity measures

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS)

In 2020, 34 million U.S. households (27% of all U.S. households) reported difficulty paying energy bills or reported that they had kept their home at an unsafe temperature because of energy cost concerns.

This estimate is less than what was reported in the previous iteration of the Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), when 37 million households, or 31%, reported similar issues in 2015. The RECS measures household energy insecurity by asking a series of questions about challenges paying energy bills or conditions of unsafe temperatures attributable to energy cost concerns.

In addition to the overall reduction in U.S. household energy insecurity between 2015 and 2020, fewer households reported each of the components of energy insecurity as well. The largest reduction in a single component between 2015 and 2020 was in the percentage of households that reported receiving a disconnection notice, which decreased from 14% in 2015 to 10% in 2020. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many states issued moratoria on utility shutoffs for several months in late 2020.

The survey also captured how often these households dealt with particular energy challenges over the previous 12 months: almost every month, some months, 1 or 2 months, or never. Households receiving disconnection notices were more likely to experience that form of energy insecurity for only 1 or 2 months, while the other forms of energy insecurity were reported more frequently.

We also asked households if they were unable to use their heating or air-conditioning equipment because the equipment was broken and they could not afford to have it fixed or because they could not afford fuel. Five million households reported that they were unable to use their heating equipment, and 6 million reported that they were unable to use their air-conditioning. 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.

U.S. households reporting some form of energy insecurity

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS)

Certain demographic groups reported more instances of energy insecurity, including lower income households, households with children, and renters. Households where survey respondents self-identified as either Black or African American alone or as Hispanic or Latino reported higher rates of energy insecurity.

The 2020 RECS collected data on household energy use from 18,496 households, the largest responding sample in the program’s history. Respondents completed the survey using self-administered web or mail questionnaires during late 2020 and early 2021.

In addition to data on household energy insecurity, the initial 2020 RECS results include estimates of structural and geographic characteristics, electronics, appliances, lighting, and demographic characteristics. In the coming months, we will release estimates on additional topics and results with information for all 50 states and Washington, DC.

What are the impacts of energy insecurity?

Energy insecurity leads to significant social, environmental and economic impacts.


As energy demand increases and availability decreases, exploitation in sensitive environments become more common. Examples include:

  • Drilling for oil in Siberia and Alaska threatens the fragile polar and tundra ecosystems.
  • Areas of rainforest have been cleared in tropical areas to make way for biofuel.
  • The construction of dams and reservoirs has led to valleys being flooded, displacing thousands of people, the loss of farmland and the destruction of ecosystems. An example of this is the construction of the Three Gorges Dam project in China.
  • The controversial construction of renewable energy such as wind and solar farms in popular upland areas such as the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District.


It is expensive to extract energy resources from remote and environmentally sensitive locations, leading to an increase in the price of energy, which will be met by consumers.


As economic development continues across the globe, the demand for energy to increase agricultural output will continue to grow. This is particularly the case in areas devoid of natural energy resources and already experience energy insecurity, leading to an increase in the food prices.


Industrial output can be affected by energy insecurity and fluctuating prices. As a result of this, prices can increase with growing uncertainty. Companies based in countries that experience energy insecurity, therefore, experience considerable challenges in competing with those in countries with energy security, reducing economic output in NEEs.


In countries where there is energy insecurity, there are conflicts between different sectors including industry, domestic users and agriculture. It may be up to the government to prioritise energy users.

Countries that have energy security may flood markets in regions affected by energy insecurity. Tariffs and other controls may be introduced to protect the home market.

Energy insecurity can lead to international political conflicts, such as the disputes along the gas pipeline from Russia to the West.