saving energy with energysage part 1

Saving energy with EnergySage, part 1: What’s on your bill?

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This post is the first in our series about how to save on your energy bills even when you’re spending more time at home, as the entire EnergySage team is, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue to check our blog for more ideas for how you can take control of your energy bills in the coming weeks

You may have heard that the world is basically on pause right now. The impact of the global pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus appears to be vast, far-reaching, and multilayered, including in some ways that you may not anticipate. For instance, with so many Americans now working from home or sheltering in place, one way you may see the impact of the pandemic personally is in how your energy bills change now that you’re spending more time at home. 

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Over the coming weeks, we at EnergySage will provide a series of blogs and videos about how to save on your energy bills in this brave new work-from-home world. We welcome your comments, feedback, ideas, and questions. Let us know what you’re curious about! 

First thing’s first: understanding your current bill

In order to determine how your utility bills change now that you’re at home, you first need to establish a baseline. Knowing how much you spent on your energy bill(s) last month–or even this month a year ago–will help you get a sense of how much your upcoming bill should be, so you’ll know how to react when you see your upcoming bill. 

The next section is best read with your most recent bill in hand, so take a minute to go find it (either in a drawer in your kitchen somewhere or by logging into your account with your utility). 

Got it? Great – let’s keep going. 

How is your electric bill determined? 

There are two primary components that influence the amount you pay for electricity in your monthly bills: your consumption and your utility’s electricity rate.

Electricity consumption

The amount of electricity you use per month is frequently referred to as your “consumption” or your “usage”. This value is expressed in kilowatt-hours–or kWh–on your electricity bill. On my electricity bill the value is called “total usage” and, while the nomenclature may vary, it should be straightforward to find the value on your bill now that you know that it’s provided in kWh. 

Your usage will vary from month to month based on a variety of factors, from how hot or cold the weather is that month to how many days there are that month to how much time you spend at home that month, which is why usage may increase significantly now that most of the country is spending more time at home.

At the same time, your usage is within your control – you can keep track of how much you use month over month, and make adjustments to your behaviors at home to reduce your overall consumption of electricity. As a result, you can have a direct impact on how much you spend on electricity each month. 

In upcoming articles and videos, we’ll talk about technology that allows you to monitor your usage overall or for individual appliances, as well as behavior changes and technology that can help reduce your monthly electricity usage. 

Utility electric rates

The second major component of your monthly electricity bill is your utility’s electricity rate. Utilities throughout the country charge different amounts for both the electricity they provide you and the distribution of that electricity to your home or business. 

Your utility rate has a number of different components, but can often be expressed as an all-in cents (or dollars) per kilowatt-hour rate–i.e., c/kWh or $/kWh. The magnitude of the rate varies throughout the country based on a number of factors, including, for instance, the type of power plants that provide your electricity. 

In most parts of the country, your utility likely charges you a flat rate for each unit of electricity that you use. In other words, to calculate your monthly electricity bill, all you need to know is how much electricity you used (your consumption) and what your utility’s rate is. Multiply the two together to determine your monthly electricity bill.

However, in some places, such as California, home and business owners are now being placed on time-of-use (TOU) rates. These rates charge a different rate for electricity depending upon the time of day, day of the week, and month of the year; hence why they’re called “time-of-use” since they bill you based on when you use the electricity. If you are on a TOU rate, it’s important to know the structure of the rate so that you can use less electricity when the rate is higher, and shift that usage to times when the rate is lower by, for instance, waiting to run your dishwasher until later at night instead of right after dinner. 

Your utility bill will say the name of the rate that you’re on, which you can then research online to determine how your specific rate works. 

Additional EnergySage resources for understanding your bills

If you’d like to dig deeper into why you pay what you do for electricity, ways to better understand your electricity bill, ideas for reducing your energy consumption and longer descriptions of utility rates, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few resources to check out:

Keep in touch and stay safe out there!

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About Spencer Fields

Spencer is the Content & Research Manager at EnergySage, where he writes about all things energy. Prior to joining EnergySage, he spent five years at Synapse Energy Economics, providing environmental, economic and policy analysis for public interest groups. Spencer has degrees in Environmental Studies and Hispanic Studies from Brown University, meaning when he's not in the office you can find him outside or traveling somewhere to work on his Spanish.

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