A decade ago, Americans might have admitted to feeling a bit guilty about doing their Christmas shopping online. Not anymore. It appears the shift toward increased online shopping has done more than merely save time during the busy holiday season: According to new research, online shopping, video streaming, and work-from-home arrangements have together led to a decrease in Americans’ use of energy.
Researchers studying annual American Time Use Surveys conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics between 2003 and 2012 found that, although Americans’ residential energy usage increased over that period, decreased travel and reduced energy consumption at retail locations and offices resulted in a net energy reduction. The savings was about 1,700 trillion British thermal units—or about 1.8 percent of the national energy demand in 2012. They also found that Americans spent eight more days at home on average in 2012 than in 2003. The research was published Jan. 29 in the journal Joule.
“We did expect to see net energy decrease, but we had no idea of the magnitude,” said study co-author Ashok Sekar, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, in a news release. “Now that we know people are spending more time at home, more focus could be put on improving residential energy efficiency.”
The researchers found that the magnitude of the change in energy usage varied by age group, with people between the ages of 18 and 24 spending 70 percent more time at home than the general population. American adults over age 65 were the only group that spent more time outside the home in 2012 than in 2003.
Sekar said he plans further research to delve into the energy trade-offs of specific lifestyle activities, such as “going to restaurants versus ordering food online.”
Hitting the virtual slopes
By the time U.S. Ski and Snowboard team members hit the downhill and slalom courses in Pyeongchang, South Korea, for this year’s Winter Olympics, many of them had already made dozens of practice runs using virtual reality.
Virtual reality (VR) software developer Strivr, which has built training programs for the NFL and Walmart employees, produced a program for the U.S. ski team in early 2017, according to sports website SportTechie. The company captured digital video of the South Korean ski runs by placing a 360-degree camera on a skier’s helmet to record each of the gates and turns as the skier descended the mountain.