This summer, the heat is on ― and not the kind that’s reminiscent of beach days and barbeques. A combination of rising electric rates and relentless (sometimes deadly) heat waves has left some people wondering if they can pay their electric bills.
Several factors have compounded to create a high-pressure situation:
- Climate change is causing hotter summers.
- Electricity prices are driving up inflation along with the cost of other necessities like gas and groceries.
- People whose utility company imposes time inflation is driving up electricity prices-of-use (TOU) rates are paying more for electricity during the times they need it most.
Let’s take a closer look at these factors. And then we’ll share a potential effective solution (yes, there is one!).
A hot topic: climate change and heat waves
Certain human behaviors have heated the Earth by about 1.2 degrees celsius since the pre-industrial era. One example is using energy sources that produce greenhouse gases. This is noteworthy because it has set a warmer baseline, which allows for higher temperatures to occur during extreme heat events like heat waves.
We’re seeing the fallout right now, as the U.S., China and several countries in Europe are experiencing unprecedented heat waves. If you think it’s limited to places that already get hot, like the American south, think again.
Severe thunderstorms in Vermont
Vermont is a prime example. Typically one of the coolest states in the U.S., this far northeastern state has experienced boiling hot temperatures recently. In fact, temperatures in the state were so relentlessly hot during a six-day heat wave in July 2022, the resulting instability caused widespread severe thunderstorms to break out across the state. The National Weather Service received 15 warnings and over 30 reports of severe weather on July 21, 2002 alone.
As the need to turn the thermostat temperature lower and run it longer becomes more pressing, people have watched their electricity bills increase. And in a heat wave like one of several that have already hit the U.S. this summer, energy costs are skyrocketing. The National Energy Assistance Directors Association predicts that households will rack up a cumulative average of $540 in cooling costs for summer 2022. This is a $90 increase over the summer 2021 cumulative average of $450.
Electricity prices keep rising
A key driver of inflation, electricity prices have risen 12% in the last year. The war in Ukraine has driven up the cost of natural gas, which is used to generate electricity in many places. As of August 2022, the average residential electricity rate in the U.S. is 14.92 per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
Pair these soaring rates with greater usage driven by heat waves ― and you get energy expenses that are causing major financial strain. Together with financial stressors like climbing gas prices and inflation for essential items, electricity bills are becoming a source of anxiety for many Americans.
Some utility providers are trying to do the right thing. These companies understand that many people simply can’t afford to shell out hundreds of dollars each month for electricity. These utility providers are suspending shutoffs until the hot season passes.
Yes, a small number of utility companies are looking out for the interests of customers in the short term. But most only care about their own interests in the long term. Ultimately, these providers prioritize their pocketbooks above all else. This is the reason why many have pushed back against renewable energy.
The extended grace period will run out. And when it does, what happens to the people who can’t pay their accumulated bill? This question is one of many about energy costs that’s haunting people.
Greater usage when rates are highest
A growing number of utility companies are implementing the time-of-use (TOU) method for electricity rates. Namely, the rates change according to the time of year and time of day. Many TOU systems categorize rates as on-peak and off-peak:
- On-peak ― The demand for electricity is greater and rates are more expensive
- Off-peak ― The demand for electricity is lower and rates are less expensive
In general terms, on a TOU system, rates are higher in the winter and summer than in the spring and fall. And when it comes to time of day, utility providers charge more when they determine the most people are at home using electricity.
A heat wave causes people to crank up their A/C during on-peak usage hours, when the heat is fiercest after building throughout the day. In addition, they’re using it at the hottest time of the year. It’s an expensive combination.
Why solar energy offers a potential solution
The cost of electricity, as it stands now, seems like a challenge that the average American can’t overcome. Unless you factor solar energy into the equation! How can rooftop solar systems help homeowners save money on their electric bill?
Reducing more power grid failures
An example out of the beleaguered state of Texas might help shed some light on the answer. The Lone Star State has seen more than its share of power grid failures, with a catastrophic one taking place during the Texas freeze of 2021. A massive grid breakdown left over 10 million people without power.
Now, a little over one year later, solar power is helping Texans avoid suffering the same life threatening fate again. Solar plants eased the load on the power grid by supplying about eight gigawatts of power on an especially blistering day in July 2022. This output is more than twice the 3.7 megawatt state operating reserves and surpassed the anticipated amount of solar power by nine percent on July 20.
Texans have embraced the benefits of solar power. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas reported, in May 2022, that solar energy adoption has increased 70% year over year in the Lone Star State. While everything might be bigger in Texas, increased energy consumption nationwide gives everyone compelling reasons to go solar.
Tap into renewable energy
Instead of relying on electricity from the power grid all day and night, solar panels can power your home during the daylight hours. Keep in mind that your solar system’s ability to supply your home with sufficient energy depends on individual factors like the following:
- Your home’s geographical location
- The direction your solar panels face
- How efficient your solar panels are
- The size of your solar array
- How much power your home uses
- How much power your family uses
- Whether you want your solar panels to offset some of your electricity use or all of it
There’s one caveat. Solar panels alone can’t power your home at night. That said, if you add a solar battery to your system, you could theoretically rely on solar energy all day and all night long. The battery stores the excess energy the solar panels generate during the day. You can use this stored energy whenever you like.
More control over energy costs
Depending on utility providers to supply your home with electricity gives you very little control over your monthly bill. Yes, you could simply turn off the A/C at times, but this isn’t realistic or safe when temperatures are soaring.
A rooftop solar system, on the other hand, gives you more control over energy costs. For example, you could choose to use solar power exclusively during the hottest times of the day and limit your electricity usage to the evening hours. Regardless of how you approach it, solar gives you more options.
Protection from power outages
Imagine you’re in the midst of a heat wave and your electricity suddenly goes kaput. It’s a scary scenario, especially when you consider that it’s well within the realm of possibility. This dangerous situation is entirely possible, even probable, due to an outdated and over stressed power grid.
However, if you have a solar system with a battery, you have some protection if the grid goes down. Depending on how much excess solar energy is stored in the battery, you can use it to power when the heat is at its most brutal.
Can’t take the heat? Go solar!
You don’t have to sit and watch helplessly as your electric bill gets more and more outrageous. Instead, be proactive and speak with one of our Solar Energy Specialists. They can answer all of your questions and help you decide whether going solar is right for you.