Electricity bills have gone up with people spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s not just higher usage that’s driving up people’s energy costs. In many cases, people are paying more for their electricity due to a series of extreme weather events, according to a new study by Sense, a web-based resource for home energy management.
Sense analyzed the energy data from more than 10,000 homes across the U.S. in its study, and it warned that the trends it’s seeing could be here to stay.
The report found that the median U.S. household increased its energy use by around 8.2% in 2020 compared to 2019, before declining by a marginal amount last year. From April to October, a period identified as the peak of electrical use across the nation, the average household paid $55 more in 2020 and 2021 than it did it 2019.
The surprise is that Sense’s researchers found the increased bills were not just due to people staying at home longer.
“While [COVID-19] has had lasting impacts, extreme weather has had far bigger effects on energy costs around different regions on the country,” Sense reported. “Whether it’s a heat dome in the typically temperate Northwest or an ice storm in the middle of a mild Texas winter, extreme weather has a big impact on electricity usage.”
For instance, homes that didn’t lose power during the Texas ice storm in February 2021 saw their average daily electrical usage increase by 76.9% compared with the rest of the winter. In the middle of the storm, on Feb. 16, homes saw a peak increase of 144.9%. Of course, the increased energy use led to higher bills.
A second major event took place occurred from June to April as a heat dome enveloped much of the Northwest, resulting in a 14.5% spike in average daily electricity consumption across the region, compared to the same months the year prior. With higher temperatures, people were running their air conditioning more, resulting in an average increase of $50 per month in electricity bills in Oregon and Washington. Homeowners also needed to check if their units required Air Conditioning System Repairs to help maintain their energy-efficiency.
Unfortunately it’s not just rising electricity bills people have to worry about. As the Wall Street Journal reported in October, gas bills are going up too. The Journal reported that around half of the U.S. households that use gas to heat their homes can expect higher bills in the winter. The Energy Information Administration estimated most homes would see their gas bills increase by around 30% compared to a year ago. However, if this winter proves to be colder than average, those bills could increase to as much as 50% higher than the previous year.
The problem is that the pandemic has resulted in more demand for heating oil and gas as well as cuts in production. If the winter is colder than normal, the gas supply will be further strained, pushing prices up even more.
As such, the Journal warned natural gas home heating bills could average $746 from Oct. 1 to March 31, up from $573 last year.
“We are very concerned about the affordability of heat this winter for all customers, but in particular those who struggle every day to afford their utility services,” Karen Lusson, a staff attorney for the National Consumer Law Center, told The Wall Street Journal.
A previous Sense survey of 1,100 homeowners earlier in 2020 found that almost half of all households – 48% - are looking to invest in smart technology to reduce their energy bills. For instance, many are looking for ways to better maintain their HVAC systems, or else upgrade them for more efficient systems. Others are adding better insulation to their homes or upgrading their windows to help their homes retain heat more efficiently.