Monday, March 8, 2021

How Is the Pandemic Impacting Utility Customers?

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An EPRI survey examines customers’ energy use and expectations of their power providers

A recent EPRI survey regarding the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on utility customer energy use found that a statistically significant number of customers are using more electricity at home and expecting greater utility assistance during the pandemic. Despite this expectation, fewer than one in 10 residential customers indicated that they are more likely to reach out to utilities for help with their bills. Conducted during the week of April 13, the survey tapped a nationally representative sample of 2,000 respondents.

“These findings suggest that customers want their utilities to be proactive about providing information and assistance to help manage their bills,” said Omar Siddiqui, EPRI expert on utility customer behavior and energy use.

Indeed, utilities have been proactive during the pandemic. Many power companies across the United States have suspended electricity disconnects for non-payment in their service territories.

Other key survey findings:

  • While 49% of respondents reported increased energy use from electronic devices and 30% reported more lighting and kitchen appliance use, 34% said that their overall household costs were lower as a result of savings in other expenses.
  • 40% of respondents said that they expect their utility to provide energy savings advice.
  • 25% expect their utility to offer programs and products to help reduce energy use and bills.
  • 26% expect their utility to offer alternative rate plans during the pandemic.

“Rather than create a new rate structure that would require approval from state public utility commissions, utilities can remind their customers about the alternative rate plans and programs that they already offer,” said Siddiqui. “For example, customers can sign up for existing time-of-use plans that enable them to save money by reducing energy use during expensive, peak demand periods. More participation in time-of-use plans is also in utilities’ interest because it helps them reduce their peak demand. This in turn helps utilities avoid or defer expensive infrastructure projects, enabling more affordable service for customers long term. During the pandemic, utilities have an opportunity to offer information and tools to help their customers make decisions that lead to lower bills.”

The survey also revealed that the pandemic’s economic impacts on households have reduced the likelihood that customers will purchase energy-efficient appliances, smart thermostats, and other energy technologies in 2020.

“During the pandemic, utilities can take a fresh look at the ways they reduce financial barriers to customer adoption of energy technologies,” said Siddiqui. “Examples include on-bill financing for residential customers and even arrangements in which the utility installs and owns equipment and leases it to commercial customers.”

As the pandemic continues, Siddiqui is closely monitoring its impacts on utility customers. “One trend to watch is how many employees and employers adopt working from home permanently, how that affects energy use, and to what extent load will shift from the commercial to the residential sector,” he said. “How long will the financial hardships related to the pandemic affect customer participation in utility energy efficiency programs and adoption of energy-efficient devices, electric vehicles and other forms of electrification, rooftop solar, energy storage, and other energy technologies? When will there be a rebound?”

Key EPRI Technical Experts:

Omar Siddiqui, Min Long
For more information, contact