Coronavirus Pandemic Leads to Increase in Energy Bills

21% say utility bills have gone up since the outbreak began
Electricity meters

With people spending more time indoors because of the coronavirus crisis, at least 1 in 5 households are seeing rising energy bills and other utility costs as a result.

The nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) conducted a survey conducted in mid-April, while stay-at-home orders were in effect for much of the country. The survey found that some homebound consumers were using more energy, especially among families with children in school. Yet many of those struggling to pay the bills were reluctant to ask for help.

More than one-fifth of consumers (21%) reported seeing their energy bills go up since the pandemic began, though a slight majority (53%) said they’d seen no change. However, among parents of school-age children, 31% said their power bill had risen, while 39% said their bill had stayed the same.

Biggest energy drains

The survey results suggested that the biggest culprit behind increased energy usage may be electronic devices. This would be in line with a reported rise in mobile app usage, including as a main source of communication.

In fact, 49% of all respondents said they’ve found their households relying more on electronic devices during the pandemic. As for other sources of electricity consumption:

  • 30% have noticed more lighting use
  • 30% have used kitchen appliances more
  • 24% have used more hot water
  • 22% have noticed more heating and cooling usage

Again, these numbers were higher among respondents with school-age children, with 66% of these respondents citing an increase in the use of electronic devices since the pandemic began. That was followed by:

  • 42% who reported more lighting usage
  • 39% who were using kitchen appliances more
  • 33% who were using more hot water
  • 31% who were using more energy to heat or cool their homes

Higher energy bills raise concerns

Among all respondents, 12% said they were “very concerned” about their bills, while 28% were at least “somewhat” concerned. On top of that, 7% said that they had either skipped an electric or gas bill during the pandemic or that they intended to do so.

Not surprisingly, the level of worry was higher among those who had recently lost a job, as 34% of unemployed respondents were “very concerned” about energy bills, and 32% were “somewhat concerned.” Likewise, the proportion of those who had either skipped an electric or gas bill — or planned to do so — rose to 26% among those who’d lost a job.

Those who had lost a job or seen their business decline during the pandemic were also more likely to be proactive about lowering their energy consumption. Among all respondents, 23% said they would take action to use less power, but with those who lost earnings during the pandemic, 41% said they were likely to change their household energy usage habits.

Interestingly, 40% of all respondents expected their utility providers to give them advice on how to reduce their energy usage, whether they asked for it or not.

On the upside, meanwhile, 34% of respondents said other areas in which they’ve been able to save during the pandemic have offset any increase in energy costs. Among those working from home, the percentage was even higher, with 48% saying other savings have offset energy costs.

Methodology: EPRI surveyed 2,000 respondents the week of April 13, with a reported margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

Tamara E. Holmes

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, DC-based writer who covers personal finance, entrepreneurship and careers.