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Where electricity bills are set to surge around the U.S. this summer

Americans burned out on working from home
Americans burned out on working from home 01:39

With the coronavirus surging in many parts of the U.S., millions of Americans face a summer of sheltering in place. That means higher electricity costs for months to come, according to a recent analysis. 

Arcadia, which connects residents with clean power, looked at how much more energy its 430,000 customers were using during March — a time when energy consumption is typically low — and translated that figure into dollars to see how much more a typical household would pay through the summer if they hunkered down at home.

"It was kind of a shock to us to see the magnitude of the change," said Owen Quinlan, Arcadia's vice president of analytics and data science. And when we did it on a dollar basis, it was kind of surprising to see … how much this was going to cost."

Philadelphia and New York residents can expect to pay between $30 and $40 a month extra for the privilege of working from home, the analysis found. Bostonians should anticipate an additional $27 a month on average, while Washington, D.C., residents should see just under $20 a month in higher costs.

Cities in the Northeast are seeing the biggest jumps in power costs for two reasons, Quinlan said. One is seasonal variability. "In places that have a traditional four-season temperate climate, you're going to see higher variability between the spring and summer," he said. Energy in the region also costs more per kilowatt-hour than in the South or West — that means even a small increase in usage can have a big impact on electricity bills. 

By contrast, West Coast cities can expect relatively modest increases of $2 to $20 a month, the analysis found. Quinlan noted that Arcadia's estimate was conservative, since it assumes Americans will increase their power by the same amount they did in March and doesn't account for blazing-hot summer temperatures.

Video diaries chronicle quarantine life 04:11

In recent months, residential energy use has jumped nationwide. Americans consumed 6% more energy in April than they had for the period in the previous five years, according to the Energy Information Administration. In Texas, current energy use is 8% to 10% higher than typical, according to Steve Cicala, an assistant professor of economics at Tufts University.

"As cooling starts to become more intensive, well, then you're going to start to see even more increases in residential consumption," Cicala said on a recent episode of the podcast "Resources Radio."

Most of that energy is coming from cooling as people working from home crank up their air conditioners.

"It takes more electricity to cool down everyone in their homes, because they're cooling their entire homes, than bringing everyone into offices and cooling those offices while their homes aren't being chilled quite as intensively," Cicala said. And it's the worker who has to pay a higher power bill — not their boss.

To keep bills manageable, Quinlan suggests closing curtains to block light, which takes some strain off the AC. Energy-efficient windows can also help keep cool air in (and, in the winter, trap warm air indoors). Finally, a "smart" thermostat and energy-efficient appliances can help lower power consumption without your having to think about it. And if your bill goes up anyway, it might be worth looking into your employer's reimbursement policy.

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