When I was growing up, I’d walk through swampy woods nearly every day to go spend time at my best friend’s house. I’d visit his house far more often than he would visit mine. Two of the most prominent reasons for this imbalance were that unlike my house, his had video games, and air conditioning! Especially in the hot, humid summer, these were very attractive propositions.
Certainly we were active enough kids. We’d go outside to do his paper route, jump on the trampoline he bought with his paper route money, or hit each other with sticks we found in the woods. But video games, and consequently air conditioning, absorbed a disproportionate amount of our time—hours on hours during the hottest part of the day. Back then, it seemed like this was the perfect setup. Looking back, I’m amazed that after looking at their electric bill, his parents didn’t kick us out of the house and into the summer heat.
Across the United States, summer is the time of peak electricity demand. Homes and businesses turn on fans and air conditioning units. Computers and appliances with cooling fans work harder to shed excess heat. Refrigerators and commercial freezers dial up their energy usage to combat the temperature. Batteries are easily damaged by heat; once their capacity is lost, it cannot be restored, requiring more frequent changes. Like my friend and I did growing up, kids on summer vacation these days burn electricity on TV and video games. When the summer comes, the turbines get cranking.
High Summer Usage Raises Electricity Prices
All of this extra usage has a compounded effect on your home’s energy bill. Directly, using more electricity means you must pay for more electricity. That’s pretty simple. In addition, because everyone is using more electricity, the per-unit price of electricity goes up. That’s a little more complex. The logic behind this has to do with the types of power plants that are used in times of low demand and in times of high demand.
There is a certain level of power that each of the various regional electrical grids in the U.S. will reliably consume, a floor that consumption rarely, if ever, dips below. Typically, the power plants that supply this base level of energy—called baseload plants—are nuclear or coal powered turbines. These plants can generate a large volume of energy very quickly but it is difficult and expensive to increase or decrease the amount of power they create.
However, energy usage fluctuates with the time of day and the season. Energy usage peaks in the late afternoon, and in the summer. So it “double-peaks” on late afternoons in the summer, sort of like how tides are higher when both the moon and sun are in alignment. At these times, other power plants, like natural gas plants, are turned on to generate the extra energy beyond the baseload level. These plants are able to ramp up and ramp down their energy generation very quickly, but are more expensive per unit of electricity than baseload plants. This makes them ideal to use when a little extra electricity is needed quickly, but not for extended amounts of time.
So, your per-unit price of electricity goes up in the summer months because as the U.S. consumes more electricity, more expensive power plants are needed to generate it. It’s a straightforward demonstration of the market forces of supply and demand.
Ways to Beat the Summer Heat Without Breaking the Bank
It seems like you’re stuck. Especially in the hotter parts of the country, the idea of forgoing air conditioning in favor of a lower electrical bill is dead on arrival. But paying more money for electricity in the summer months means having less money available to enjoy the sun while it’s shining and the trees while they’re green. One way or another, you’ll need to compromise; a cooler house means a higher bill and vice versa. Still, there are some ways to minimize your payment while maximizing your summer enjoyment. Here’s what we’ve got:
1. Pull the Shades
The sun’s radiant heat will bypass your window pane to warm the air molecules inside your house. In the northern hemisphere, your southern facing windows will be most affected by sunlight due to the tilt of the earth on its axis. Due to the earth’s rotation, your western windows will get sunlight in the afternoon, at the hottest time of the day. If you don’t want to feel like you’re living in a cave all summer, drawing only your south-western window shades will cool your house the most.
2. Use Air Conditioning Judiciously
This is a tough sell, I know, but simply reducing the amount of time your air conditioner is running is the easiest way to reduce the electricity it takes to run it. When the sun’s the hottest, of course, run the AC. But in the morning, or in the evening, or on cloudy days, consider using fans, or opening windows. Hang out in the basement, or on a shady porch. Eat popsicles, and stay hydrated. If you’re not going to be home for a little while, don’t leave the air running. I’m not suggesting sitting around miserably in a pool of your own sweat (Dad…), I’m just saying a little discretion can go a long way.
3. Invest in energy star windows and effective insulation
The less effective the temperature barriers between the inside and outside of your home are, the harder your AC will have to work to compensate for the difference. Energy star rated windows are double paned, and the area between the panes is filled with inert gas. They provide the most efficient and cost-effective seal. Proper wall insulation helps keep the heat out and the cold in. Good seals around your windows, doors, vents, and cables can also go a long way towards buffering your home from the summer sun.
4. Hold off on the pot roast
You wouldn’t light up your wood stove or your fireplace in the middle of summer. So why would you light up your kitchen stove, right in the heat of the day, to bake your dinner? Maybe try whipping up a salad. Or a stir-fry—stovetop cooking, while not helping the situation, is still better than using the oven. Quick meals like stir-fry, pan-fried fish, or chicken quesadillas heat the house less than boiling oodles of water does. Better yet, use the grill. Any excess heat the grill throws off stays outside, where it belongs. And it just tastes good. On a related note, let your food cool off before you put it in the fridge. The poor thing’s working hard enough already, it doesn’t need to deal with any extra heat from your piping hot pasta.
5. Consider a fixed rate energy plan
Electricity is more expensive in the summer. By choosing an energy provider who offers fixed rate energy plans, you can lock in a lower rate in spring, fall, or winter, and pay that same rate all summer long no matter how much juice the U.S. grid is guzzling down. While you’re still using the larger amount of electricity in the summer, the rate you’re paying will stay the same.
We like to have a little fun in the sun ourselves at Liberty Power. We understand that paying high variable rates for electricity can put a major damper on summer activities. That’s one of the reasons why we offer fixed rate energy plans—to help you get the most out of the best time of year. To learn more about fixed rate energy plans in your state, click here.