Oct 15, 2020 - Economy

Working from home is driving up power bills

Illustration of an office desk sitting abandoned in a field

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Residential electricity consumption rose 10% in the second quarter as the pandemic kept many people at home, new research shows.

Why it matters: The new paper from Tufts University economist Steve Cicala is another window onto how COVID-19 is shifting energy use patterns and creating financial hardship.

By the numbers: The average monthly power bill rose by almost $11 per household in April-July.

  • But "one fifth of the population is serviced by a utility whose mean bill has risen by at least $20/month," writes Cicala, who's also affiliated with the University of Chicago's Energy Policy Institute.
  • Overall, this extra energy cost U.S. households almost $6 billion in the April-July stretch.

The big picture: Cicala notes that remote work has benefits including less gasoline use, less time driving and reduced transportation emissions.

  • But looking at that alone misses an "important part of the calculation," he said in a statement alongside the paper, noting the future of remote work is "not as green as one might think."
  • "Just as dense cities are more energy efficient than suburbs, it requires more energy to power many, many homes than to power single office buildings."
  • "The trend toward working from home could increase emissions from the power sector on net."

What's next: Some amount of remote work will outlast COVID-19.

The paper notes that a "mixed work format based on part-time work from home entails higher power demand, as both offices and homes will be simultaneous drawing additional power."

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