Energy Tech Tips Community

Three months ago, no one knew how long stay-at-home orders would last or how completely our new normal would change the routines of daily life. But when we started to think about how nationwide social distancing and a widespread pandemic were going to impact our members’ relationship with their energy, a few things started to become clear — literally and figuratively.

News headlines began to spotlight clearer skies and rivers as emissions decreased across the globe. Our individual carbon footprints began to shrink but our consumption didn’t disappear entirely. Much of it had simply shifted to one place — the home.

These bill jumps are coming at a time when…households are already being hit by intense economic strain.

To better understand this shift, we took a look at 12 months of historical energy bill data from approximately 10,000 Arcadia members across 13 of the largest metropolitan areas in the US. We then compared usage rates and energy bill totals before and after nationwide lockdowns began, factoring in average yearly weather fluctuations by city.

Our data shows a drastic increase in energy consumption at home is expected this summer, resulting in higher costs for already financially strained Americans.

Bar chart showing summer utility bill increases by metro area

What we found:

  • All top 13 metro areas in the US can expect to see bill increases from energy use ranging from $2 to $37 per month.
  • The majority of cities slated to see major utility bill increases are located on the East Coast, including Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, and Washington, DC.
  • While households in each of these cities are likely to see spikes between $20 and $40 per month, West Coast cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Riverside, and Seattle will likely only see bill increases between $2 and $20.
  • Population-dense cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston may see some of the highest at-home energy bill increases in the nation, with conservative estimates of $37, $34, and $27 in energy bill spikes, respectively.
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The workforce shift to the home

With more and more companies shifting to permanent or long-term work from home policies, this increased financial and energy consumption burden on individuals is not likely to shift any time soon. Companies will likely start to look at how to subsidize utility bills as a new form of employee benefit and look at new, creative ways to offset carbon emissions from home energy usage among the workforce.

Chart showing summer bill increases per household across metro areas: Boston - $27, DC - $19, Seattle - $2, San Francisco - $8, Philadelphia - $37, New York City - $34, Riverside - $8, Los Angeles - $17
Bill spikes: a compounding threat

For many others, these bill jumps are coming at a time when their households are already being hit by intense economic strain. Cities such as Philadelphia (the city soon to face the highest projected energy bill increases of the 13 cities sampled) saw an unemployment rate of 5.1% in March, up 1.2% from the year prior. Los Angeles, which is slated to experience $17-per-household utility bill spikes, saw its unemployment rate climb to 5.7% in March, up 1.6% from the year prior.

And with health risks still immense for residents in these areas, approximately 10% of whom are uninsured, people of color face the highest risk of all. An estimated 59% of Philadelphia’s COVID-19 patients are non-white, as are large portions of the city’s essential workforce. A quarter of these workers make less than $30,000 annually, while two-thirds make less than $60,000 per year.

What you can do to support yourself, the planet, and others

Supporting renewable energy and paying closer attention to your home energy bills has never been more important. Renewable energy continues to drive down costs for everyone, and getting smart about your energy can ensure that you are using your electricity efficiently without putting additional stress on the power grid. For those in need of critical assistance, many utility companies are also currently offering forgiveness to customers who can’t pay their bills on time.

For tips on how to improve your energy efficiency at home, check out 10 easy ways to save energy at home and How to work from home without raising your electric bill.

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Audrey Carleton

Audrey Carleton is a freelance environment and culture journalist based in Toronto.

Toronto, CA