COVID-19, and the wider social and economic impacts that a global pandemic entails, have led to unprecedented reductions in energy consumption globally. Whilst estimates of changes in energy consumption have emerged at the national scale, detailed sub-regional estimates to allow for global comparisons are less developed. Using night-time light satellite imagery from December 2019-June 2020 across 50 of the world’s largest urban conurbations, we provide high resolution estimates (450m2) of spatio-temporal changes in urban energy consumption in response to COVID-19. Contextualising this imagery with modelling based on indicators of mobility, stringency of government response, and COVID-19 rates, we provide novel insights into the potential drivers of changes in urban energy consumption during a global pandemic. Our results highlight the diversity of changes in energy consumption between and within cities in response to COVID-19, moderating dominant narratives of a shift in energy demand away from dense urban areas. Further modelling highlights how the stringency of the government’s response to COVID-19 is likely a defining factor in shaping resultant reductions in urban energy consumption.