Energy insecurity and COVID

Energy insecurity, or the inability to pay one’s energy bills, is a major problem facing millions of American households. In this work, we seek to define the challenges associated with energy insecurity, identify the factors that contribute to it, and evaluate ways in which energy insecure households cope with their conditions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced an unprecedented challenge for households across the U.S. that already struggle to pay their energy bills. We are currently studying the way in which households under 200 percent of the federal poverty line are experiencing energy insecurity throughout the pandemic through a four-wave survey, as funded by the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Environmental Resilience Institute, and the Indiana University Office of the Vice President of Research.

Latest Information: Survey of Household Energy Insecurity in Time of COVID

Waves one and two have been completed and the results of each can be found in the menu below. The surveys capture responses from nationally-representative samples of those households at or below 200% of the federal poverty line. The survey questions relate to energy expenses, household energy behavior, and activities since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The first wave survey of the nationally-representative sample was conducted between April 30 and May 25, 2020. 

Highlighted findings:

  • 22% of respondents had to reduce or forgo other basic needs in the past month to pay their energy bill
  • In the previous month, 13% of households indicated they could not pay an energy bill

View Nationally Representative Survey Results

The survey of Indiana households at or below 200% of the federal poverty line was administered from April 30 through June 2, 2020.

Notable findings: 

  • 15% of households indicated they could not pay an energy bill in the prior month
  • 13% of respondents reported receiving shutoff notices

View Indiana Specific Survey Results

The second wave survey was administered during August 2020. This report includes results from Wave-2 and combined results of the two waves.

Preliminary findings:

  • The data suggest that 3.8 million Americans could not pay an energy bill in at least one month since May
  • Approximately 27% of Black and 27% of Hispanic respondents could not pay their energy bill since May
  • Only 38% of respondents reported having received a stimulus check through the CARES act

View Preliminary Report

The third survey was administered in January 2021 and asks respondents to report activities in the five-month period between September and January.

Key findings:

  • 11% of low-income households report receiving a shutoff notice and 3% had their service disconnected
  • 31% of respondents have some utility debt, with 20% report owing $100 or more
  • Compared to white households, 3.5 times as many Black households and 2.5 times as many Hispanic households reported having their electricity shut off due to nonpayment

View Preliminary Report

The final wave of this four-wave panel was administered from May 24 to June 5. Summary results combine the previous three waves for May 2020 to May 2021 results.

Major findings:

  • 24% of respondents could not pay an energy bill; this suggests 23.5 million Americans could not pay an energy bill in at least one month since May 2020
  • Over 18% of respondents received shutoff notices and 8% of respondents had their service disconnected

Access the Report

What Can Be Done?

Visualize the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on energy insecurity and explore possible solutions to this energy crisis.

View Infographic

Related Publications

Texas, COVID and a crisis of energy insecurity

 A discussion of chronic energy insecurity, the energy crisis Texans have recently faced, and COVID-19

"Texas, COVID and a crisis of energy insecurity," (S. Carley, D. Konisky), The Hill, (27 February 2021)


Learn more


Disparities in Energy Insecurity

Escalated sociodemographic disparities appear amid the COVID-19 crisis

"Sociodemographic disparities in energy insecurity among low-income households before and during the COVID-19 pandemic," (T. Memmott, S. Carley, M. Graff, D. Konisky), Nature Energy, (January 2021)

Learn more

COVID-19 Assistance and Energy Insecurity

Understand the need for COVID-19 assistance to support energy-insecure households

"Covid-19 assistance needs to target energy insecurity," (M. Graff, S. Carley), Nature Energy, V5 352-354 (May 2020)

Learn more

Coronavirus is Creating a Crisis of Energy Insecurity

The coronavirus pandemic has intensified energy insecurity and the related health impacts

"Coronavirus is creating a crisis of energy insecurity," (M. Graff, T. Memmott), Environmental Health News, (July 2020)

Learn more

In The Conversation

Percentage of respondents who reported being unable to pay an energy bill from late April through late May of 2020, by demographic group. (FPL = Federal poverty level)  The Conversation, CC-BY-ND Data Source: Survey of Household Energy Insecurity in the Time of COVID

"Energy is a basic need, and many Americans are struggling to afford it in the COVID-19 recession," (S. Carley,  D. Konisky), The Conversation, (July 2020)

Learn more