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Pandemic Lockdowns Resulted in a Nationwide Decrease in Energy Consumption

New study reports that the US saw a 7.5 percent decrease in energy consumption

Holden Galusha

Holden Galusha is the associate editor for Lab Manager. He was a freelance contributing writer for Lab Manager before being invited to join the team full-time. Previously, he was the...

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A new study from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh reports that net energy consumption across the entire US decreased by 7.5 percent in 2020 as compared to 2019 in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. While that may have been a benefit for the environment, this had negative financial effects at the individual level.

Published in Energies in late October, this study is reportedly “the first to quantify the effects of pandemic disruptions on energy consumption trends across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.” Overall, the US saw a 7.5 percent decrease in energy consumption. Alaska was the only state that experienced an increase in energy usage, which lead author Warren Vaz attributes to a harsher winter than in 2019 as well as more lenient lockdown practices. Hawaii was on the other end of the spectrum; the Aloha State decreased energy usage by 26 percent. Vaz hypothesizes that its dependence on tourism, which all but disappeared throughout 2020, is one of the causes.

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The study also examined how other environmental influences changed throughout the pandemic. For instance, greenhouse gas emissions lessened, COemissions, and fossil fuel consumption all decreased while renewable energy increased.

Although this data is encouraging from an environmental perspective, the changes did have some downsides. When corporations sent large swaths of employees to work remotely throughout 2020, the financial burden of that energy consumption associated with their work shifted from the corporation to the workers. As a result, many remote employees experienced significant increases in their energy bills. For instance, a June 2020 story from CBS News tells of a teacher whose electricity bills doubled when working from home. Should widespread remote work continue, more companies may start allowing employees to expense out portions of their electrical bills to cover the costs.