Berkouwer, Susanna “Electric Heating and the Effect of Temperature on Household Electricity Consumption in South Africa” (February 2019) | WP-299 | Abstract

Non-Technical Abstract:
In the next several decades, energy use in emerging markets is expected to rise dramatically. However, little is known about how household electricity use in developing countries respond to temperature changes. In addition, while much research in this area has focused on air-conditioning usage at higher temperatures, less is known about the response to lower temperatures. This research uses 132,375,282 hourly household electricity consumption observations from 2010 to 2013 for 5,975 households in Johannesburg to study the effects of temperature on household electricity demand in South Africa.

In the U.S., natural gas, fuel oil, kerosene, and propane constitute the bulk of primary space heating for households. The primary source in the UK is also gas, and only 10% of British households supplement with electric heating in the winter. These figures look different in developing countries. The poorest households have access to electricity well before gas heating. Electricity is the primary source of heating in many developing countries, including for example South Africa and Brazil. This suggests that we may see higher electricity consumption at lower temperatures in developing countries.

This paper identifies two main results. First, households use substantially more electricity at cold temperatures than at medium temperatures. Across the entire temperature range 2-23 degrees C, households consume 4.1% less electricity for every 1 degree C increase in outdoor temperatures. Second, household responses to temperature changes vary over the year. Due to seasonal patterns in appliance use, households do not respond to cold hours in summer as strongly as they do in winter.

This result has meaningful implications for policymakers. Energy planners working to limit outages due to capacity constraints will need to incorporate demand for electric heating into their forecasts. Policymakers looking to reduce demand through energy efficiency programs would benefit from targeting heating appliances. As growing middle-class incomes in developing countries purchase both heating and cooling appliances, it will be important to encourage energy efficiency improvements not only in air conditioners but also in electric heaters.