Holiday Electricity Demand

Public Health Officials Encouraged Americans to Stay Home for Thanksgiving and Keep Things Small. How Did These Holiday Changes Affect Utility Rates?

On Nov. 26, 2020, Americans consumed roughly 46 million turkeys across the country. Most of these poor birds tip the scales at around 15 pounds, requiring at least three hours of cooking time, and nearly 8 kWh of electricity. Consider the additional sides and pies, and Thanksgiving electricity rates can shock consumers.

Holidays in 2020 looked a little different. Thanksgiving especially experienced significant changes this year, mainly due to fewer Americans traveling in response to spiking pandemic numbers across the country. Public health officials recommended smaller gatherings with immediate family members only; accordingly, the classic turkey dinner got adjusted, prompting many consumers to seek less hefty birds and cook smaller meals. Considering this, how did electricity rates pan out for Thanksgiving 2020?

The United States Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports on consumer patterns in energy usage. Surprisingly, the electricity demand for Thanksgiving this year presented similar to, if not lower than that of previous years. On a typical day, American electricity demand spikes twice. In the morning, coffee pots brew, water heaters kick on for showers, and hairdryers get plugged in for a perfect blowout. At night, Netflix streams, dinners simmer, and dishwashers run. On Thanksgiving, this pattern flips — most of the electricity demand occurs in the morning when the bulk of the cooking occurs. Conversely, demand diminishes in the evening, as folks settle in for a quiet night with the family.

Social distancing and smaller meals did not affect this overall holiday pattern. Americans still woke early to cook their turkeys and settled down to digest and watch football later in the day. It seems as if COVID could not topple tradition — even if celebrations remained smaller than usual.

But, consider more. Heating and cooling systems represent the most energy-expensive utility in the household. With children home for the holidays and cold winter temperatures, many Americans splurge for extra comfort during Thanksgiving. The EIA reports that the period from Nov. 23 through Nov. 29, 2020, remained much warmer than usual; in fact, heating degree days stayed 13% lower than in 2019. Due to this unusual weather, Thanksgiving 2020 in New York City recorded the least electricity demand in five years. Milder than usual temperatures across the country spurred lower utility bills for most regions.

Floridians didn’t fare so well. During the week of Thanksgiving 2020 — Orlando, Florida, experienced temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Southern states rely on electric cooking (compared to higher natural gas use in the North). Due to these factors, electricity rates for Thanksgiving Day 2020 in Florida shot up to their highest in five years.

Weather patterns aside, Thanksgiving remained somewhat normal in 2020. Americans refuse to go cold turkey on their holidays, finding new and creative ways to celebrate even amidst the pandemic.

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