Big-screen televisions, especially the older plasma models, can be energy hogs. So can refrigerators, dishwashers, and other kitchen tools. It seems logical, then, that big events like the Super Bowl where people huddle en masse around TVs and eat lots of food would cause a spike in energy consumption. But that’s not the case.
OPower, an energy consulting firm that previously brought us a breakdown of household politics and energy efficiency, released a report this week revealing that energy use dropped precipitously throughout the U.S. during the 2012 Super Bowl—the most watched TV event of all time.
The company looked at anonymized data from 145,000 households during the last Super Bowl. This is what energy consumption looked like in the Western U.S. (a sample size of 91,000 households) before, during, and after the event compared to a typical Sunday at that time of year. Electricity consumption spiked a bit before the game, presumably as people were preparing food, and then it dropped to 5% below normal levels—and during the half-time show, it dropped even further to 7% below normal.
Here’s another way to look at it.
Similar patterns occurred in the Eastern U.S. The one difference: Energy use increased immediately after the game. This most likely has something to do with the different time zone. OPower postulates: "That means that immediately after the game, many people (at least those planning to report to work the next day) were probably returning home en masse from parties. One can imagine that as they walked in their doors, they collectively flipped on the lights and other appliances. This, in turn, translated into an unusually above-average period of energy usage relative to a typical Sunday’s late night, when most people would have been winding down and going to bed."
There are a few things that could explain the electricity plunge during the game itself. As OPower points out, a Nielsen poll in 2011 discovered that 45% of Super Bowl viewers had plans to watch the game with friends and relatives—so that means all the television watching and associated energy use is concentrated in a smaller number of homes. At the same time, people become so fixated on the game that they’re less likely to do other electricity-using activities at the same time.
OPower concludes that its report shows the importance "TV pooling," or watching TV with others. But in order to get such dramatic energy declines on a weekly basis, television executives are going to have to come up with a whole lot of shows that are as widely appealing and entrancing as the Super Bowl.