Average Electric Bill in California

We dug into the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s data[1] to look at the average monthly electric bill for California residential households. These averages are for the full year of 2018, not any specific month of 2019, given that electricity usage & prices fluctuate month-to-month.

$102.90
average monthly residential electric bill in California
*This is 12.5% less than the United States national average, which is $117.65.
18.84¢/kWh
average residential electric rate for households in California
*This is 46.4% greater than the U.S. national average, which is 12.87¢/kWh.
546 kWh
average monthly residential electricity consumption in California
*This is 40.3% less than the national average (914 kWh) & the 2nd lowest in the U.S..
13th
California’s ranking for lowest electric bill in the United States
*Relative to average monthly household income (1.84%), California has the 5th lowest bill.

Why Are Electric Bills in California Comparatively Low?

The two factors that make up the cost an electric bill are (1) cost and (2) consumption. Looking at each, cost of electricity in California is significantly higher than the national average, coming in at 46.4% higher. However, the significant increase in cost is offset by the significant decrease in average electricity consumption. California residents’ average electricity consumption is 40.3% less than the national average.

Reasons for High Electricity Rates in California

With California having much higher electricity rates than the national average (46.4% higher), it’s important to understand what makes electricity more or less expensive. The factors affecting this number are:

  1. Supplyan increase in the supply of energy brings costs down. For example, weather events such as high amounts of rain or high wind speeds can temporarily increase the supply of energy where there are hydropower plants or wind turbines to take advantage, and as a result, lower electricity rates.
  2. Demand – an increase in the demand for energy causes costs to rise. This is because the use of more costly fuels, such as natural gas, help “fill in” for the rise in demand. For example, a heat wave might temporarily increase the demand for cooling and the subsequent need for fuels, and as a result, raise electricity rates.

Additional factors that impact electricity rates include state & federal regulations, global markets and even financial speculation.

Reasons for Low Electricity Consumption in California

Because California residents consume much less electricity than the national average (40.3% less), it’s important to understand exactly what electricity is used for. The EIA looked at the end uses of electricity in the average American household and found the following breakdown.

NOTE

“Other uses” includes small electric devices, heating elements, exterior lights, outdoor grills, pool and spa heaters, backup electricity generators, and motors not listed above. Does not include electric vehicle charging.

Tips for Lowering Electric Bill

  • Reduce space heating/cooling– Given that heating & cooling make up a large part of the average electric bill, increasing energy efficiency in this area can have arguably the biggest impact on your bill. Here are some things you can do to reduce your usage in this area:
    • Use a programmable thermostat (can reduce heating/cooling by ~10%)
    • Use extra insulation
    • Dress up/down to the temperature
    • Replace your air filter more often
    • Check seals on windows/doors/appliances for openings/leaks
  • Reduce water heating – One of the next biggest portions of the average electric bill is from water heating, which can be reduced by showering at lower temperatures, taking shorter hot showers and by lowering the temperature on the water heater itself (ideally to 120 degrees Fahrenheit). 
  • Adjust fridge & freezer temperatures – Ideally, your fridge should be at 38 degrees and your freezer at 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Where Does California Get Its Electricity From?

California produces a lot of crude oil, and the high amount of air traffic in California leads to a lot of jet fuel being used in the country. Moving away from air traffic, California ranks first in the nation as the main producer of renewable energy, specifically solar, geothermal and biomass, according to the EIA.

Solar energy accounted for 16% of California’s electricity generation. Along with these renewable energy sources, California uses natural gas, ethanol, hydroelectric power and nuclear power for electricity.

[1] Data from: https://www.eia.gov/electricity/data.php#sales