With so many Americans working from home due to COVID-19 restrictions on businesses, their home electric usage has gone up — and so have their bills.
A company that sells energy monitoring devices just released an analysis attaching a dollar figure to the cost and according to one of the findings, California residents spent about $176 more on their utility bills in 2020 compared to 2019.
“There is a real cost to staying at home,” said George Zavaliagkos, vice president of technology at Sense, the maker of the monitoring devices. “Maybe you don’t notice it month to month, but we definitely noticed it over the year.”
About the size of a cellphone, the Sense monitor is installed in a homeowner’s electric panel.
The device, which costs about $300, provides real-time data on household electricity. It can track appliances and electronic devices — even for those not considered “smart” — and help identify energy drains so homeowners can eliminate wasting power. About 50,000 Sense monitors have been installed across the country.
To conduct the analysis, the Massachusetts-based company took a look at data from 5,200 randomly selected homes equipped with Sense monitors. Looking at energy use in those households from March 1 of last year — when lockdown orders first went into effect in many states such as California — to Aug. 31, the company compared the numbers in those homes to the same time frame in 2019.
“We are comparing apples to apples,” Zavaliagkos said. “They are the same people and we believe that the data (are) very accurate.”
Nationally, the analysis found that electrical usage increased 9.3 percent from April through August last year compared to 2019, with homeowners paying $85 more in the spring and summer months. Extrapolating that through the end of the year, the additional cost came to $127 per household.
In California, the study showed residents on average paid $19.60 more per month in the spring and summer compared to 2019, a pace that Sense said would come to $176 for the year.
Zavaliagkos attributed the higher numbers in the Golden State to three factors: the pandemic, a spate of heat waves that made the summer of 2020 hotter than 2019 and a succession of wildfires that worsened air quality, which led to more people staying indoors.
“We did the analysis and said, ‘Whoa,'” Zavaliagkos said. “You see this peak, it’s so much higher than anything that’s happened in the previous year. It’s a triple whammy.”
But California’s numbers were not the highest in the Sense study.
Electricity use for New York residents increased 12.7 percent in the spring and summer, leading to an estimated increase of $243 for the year compared to 2019. And usage in Massachusetts was up 11.4 percent, putting Bay State residents on track to pay $244.80 more for all of 2020.
On the low end, Florida residents used just 3.9 percent more electricity last spring and summer, putting the state on a year-end track to spend $76 more on utility bills compared to the previous year. Zavaliagkos reckoned Florida’s lower numbers were due to mild weather and state officials not issuing stay-at-home orders right away.
Residents in Texas finished in the middle of the pack. Electricity bills in the Lone Star State jumped 12 percent in July due to record heat waves but overall electricity use in the spring and summer was up 8.6 percent, translating into $17.80 more in monthly bills compared to 2019. Sense estimated Texas residents were on pace to spend $160 more on their utility bills for the entire year.
Sense analyzed data from 1,832 homes in Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, New York and California.
After crunching the numbers, Zavaliagkos said he did not have any specific policy recommendations for officials in California, where a series of state mandates are being implemented to electrify more of the state’s grid and expand adoption of electric vehicles.
But he did say too much electric infrastructure is wed to “last-century technology” and needs to be modernized. Exploiting new technologies that can expand the use of data “to both customers and utilities” can help do that.
“The pattern is, COVID or not, people will work more from home and heat waves are happening more frequently,” Zavaliagkos said. “So we need to ask, is our infrastructure ready for this triple whammy effect?”