Tech Insights

Are Halloween Hijinks Draining the Power Grid?

October 31, 2023 by Kevin Clemens

Halloween is a season of creativity and mischief. Hidden beneath the ghoulish shenanigans and eerie allure of this spooky holiday lies a story of energy consumption.

In today’s world, where Halloween decorations have evolved from humble jack-o'-lanterns to extravagant lighting displays—second only to Christmas in energy consumption—are Halloween hijinks draining the grid?

 

Halloween decorations have grown more elaborate—and energy-intensive—through the years.

Halloween decorations have grown more elaborate—and energy-intensive—through the years. Image used courtesy of Pixabay 

 

Power Grid Consumption

In the U.S., Christmas lighting consumes 6.6 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity consumption yearly, according to the Energy Information Administration. While that’s just 0.2 percent of the country’s total electricity usage, it is enough to run 14 million refrigerators and more than the annual consumption of a country like El Salvador. Halloween is catching up to Christmas when it comes to the energy consumed by huge home-lighting displays and inflatable lawn ornaments.

 

In the U.S., Christmas lighting consumes 6.6 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity consumption yearly, according to the Energy Information Administration. While that’s just 0.2 percent of the country’s total electricity usage, it is enough to run 14 million refrigerators and more than the annual consumption of a country like El Salvador. Halloween is catching up to Christmas when it comes to the energy consumed by huge home-lighting displays and inflatable lawn ornaments.

 

According to BC Hydro, Christmas holiday displays in Vancouver account for about three percent of the electricity load in the province during the holidays. Halloween displays are rapidly catching up as huge displays become a part of spooky celebrations. According to the power company, Halloween mega displays are “draining” the provincial electricity load.

While the individual use of elaborate Halloween decorations, especially string lights, animatronics, and inflatable displays, results in slightly higher electric bills for the homeowner, the cumulative effect of many decorated households can lead to a localized increase in power demand. In some cases, this may strain the local power grid, especially if the decorations are energy-intensive and many households in the area participate.

While Halloween displays might cause localized spikes in energy demand in some areas, these are generally short-lived and have not had a major impact on the broader power grid. The power grid is designed to handle fluctuations in demand, and utilities plan accordingly.

 

Simple Holiday Origins 

Halloween probably originated from Irish and Scottish pagan harvest festivals. By the 1820s, it had worked its way to the U.S. and found a home in October, conveniently celebrating the end of the harvest. Before the 1970s, pumpkins were the primary decorations carved into jack-o-lanterns and lighted by candles. 

 

Halloween yard decorations.

Halloween yard decorations. Image courtesy of Library of Congress

 

Times have changed. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend a record $12.2 billion on Halloween decorations, costumes, and candy this year. As in previous years, the top ways consumers celebrate the holiday include handing out candy (68%), decorating their home or yard (53%), and dressing in costume (50%). Consumers also plan to throw or attend a party (32%) and take their children trick-or-treating (28%).

 

Reducing Energy

There are a number of ways Halloween decorations and activities use energy:

  • Lights: Halloween decorations often involve lights, such as jack-o'-lanterns, string lights, and projection lights. LED lights use less energy than incandescents but can still add up if you have a lot of decorations.
  • Appliances: Some Halloween decorations, such as fog machines and inflatable decorations, require electricity.
  • Costumes: Some, such as heated and light-up costumes, require batteries or electricity to operate.
  • Pumpkins: Pumpkins are a traditional Halloween decoration but can also be a waste of energy. If you carve a pumpkin, use a battery-powered candle or LED light.

You can reduce energy consumption on Halloween with these tips:

  • Use energy-efficient lights: If you use lights for your Halloween decorations, use LED lights. LED lights typically use up to 90% less energy than traditional incandescent lights.
  • Unplug decorations when not using them: Even when your decorations are turned off, they can still use energy if plugged in. Unplug your decorations when you are not using them to save energy.
  • Use timers for decorations: You can set your Halloween decorations to turn on and off at certain times, avoiding leaving decorations on all night, which can waste energy.
  • Energy vampires: Halloween is that time of year again when vampires come out to play. But this time, we're talking about the energy vampires that threaten energy bills. Vampire energy is the electricity appliances and electronics use, even when turned off. Typically, electronic devices will consume some amount of energy whenever they are plugged into the wall. This can account for up to 20% of monthly energy bills. The good news is it's easy to slay energy vampires. Unplug unused devices like phone chargers, computers, televisions—even the coffee maker.

 

How Much Candy Corn Does It Take to Power an EV?

A sweet spot in the whole Halloween celebration is candy. Candy spending in 2023 is expected to reach $3.6 billion, and it’s a sure bet that much goes to candy corn. Candy corn is a three-color confectionary that has come to symbolize Halloween. First developed in the 1880s, it is made from sugar, corn syrup, carnauba wax, coloring, and binders. Almost 9 billion candy corn kernels are produced each Halloween, totaling more than 35 million pounds. 

 

How much candy corn does it take to power an EV?

How much candy corn does it take to power an EV? Image used courtesy of Pixabay 

 

Candy packs a surprising amount of energy. Each candy corn is about seven calories. To put it into another unit of measure, about 120 candy corn pieces contain about 1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy. On average, an electric vehicle (EV) requires about 30-35 kWh of energy to travel 100 miles. So, to travel a mile in an EV requires about the energy contained in 42 candy corn pieces. Is it any wonder kids get a sugar high from eating their Halloween candy?

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) offers a Spooky Energy Units Calculator to explore this further, demonstrating how energy consumption stacks up against the energy found in candy and other ghoulish and fun Halloween things.

 

Calculate your Halloween energy use at the DOE’s website.

Calculate your Halloween energy use at the DOE’s website. Image used courtesy of DOE