Impact of Urban Sprawl on U.S. Residential Energy Use

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Rong, Fang
Ruth, Matthias
Improving energy efficiency through technological advances has been the focus of U.S. energy policy for decades. However, there is evidence that technology alone will be neither sufficient nor timely enough to solve looming crises associated with fossil fuel dependence and resulting greenhouse gas accumulation. Hence attention is shifting to demand-side measures. While the impact of urban sprawl on transportation energy use has been studied to a degree, the impact of sprawl on non-transport residential energy use represents a new area of inquiry. This dissertation is the first study linking sprawl to residential energy use and provides empirical support for compact land-use developments, which, as a demand-side measure, might play an important role in achieving sustainable residential energy consumption. This dissertation develops an original conceptual framework linking urban sprawl to residential energy use through electricity transmission and distribution losses and two mediators, housing stock and formation of urban heat islands. These two mediators are the focuses of this dissertation. By tapping multiple databases and performing statistical and geographical spatial analyses, this dissertation finds that (1) big houses consume more energy than small ones and single-family detached housing consumes more energy than multi-family or single-family attached housing; (2) residents of sprawling metro areas are more likely to live in single-family detached rather than attached or multifamily housing and are also expected to live in big houses; (3) a compact metro area is expected to have stronger urban heat island effects; (4) nationwide, urban heat island phenomena bring about a small energy reward, due to less energy demand on space heating, while they impose an energy penalty in States with a hot climate like Texas, due to higher energy demand for cooling; and taken all these together, (5) residents of sprawling metro areas are expected to consume more energy at home than residents of compact metro areas. This dissertation concludes with the policy implications that emerged from this study and suggestions for future research as well.