Energy Demands change due to COVID-19

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COVID-19 has had many negative impacts worldwide. But when it comes to energy usage, the demand for power is changing. Since the UK lockdown, the demand for electricity has been dropping. This is due to a drop in industrial and commercial (I&C) usage in particular, as offices and factories have closed their doors. According to Limejump, this should continue as the three-week lockdown continues, given that I&C makes up approximately 45 per cent of UK demand. By 24th March, energy demand in the UK had already dropped by 20 per cent from the 3rd March.

Electron’s strategy director, Jon Ferris, reiterated this pattern, saying: “It’s clear from data across Europe that COVID-19 and the responses to it have had an impact on electricity consumption, although the UK appears to be lagging behind and the impact on demand is likely to increase in the coming days.

“Demand would usually decline at this time of year anyway, complicating comparisons across the month of March, but the shape of consumption has changed – the morning rise in demand has been dampened, and as the sun has emerged this week, midday demand has decreased even more. This means that the ramp into the evening peak is exacerbated, although there appears to be sufficient flexible generation to manage it at the moment, and the clock change typically brings a reduction in peak evening demand.”

However, in a Q&A published on the ESO website by Roisin Quinn, the pattern of demand has not yet changed to the point where it has become problematic.

“Electricity demand normally follows a regular daily pattern; rising as we get up and get to school or work, plateauing throughout the day, and then peaking at dinner time when we get home.” she said. “We don’t expect significant changes to this but again it’s something we’re monitoring closely.”

Before the impact even began, Octopus Energy already noticed the impact. Up to 30 per cent of UK households (based on smart meter data from 115,000 households) were seen changing their usage patterns from the 16th March. Households had increased their daytime use of energy by 2-4 per cent, increasing energy bill by an average of £1.34-£2.85 per week.

Moving forward, it is likely that this shift in energy demand will stay as is for the period of the lockdown. However, results after this will depend on the upcoming measures to slow the pandemic.

Quinn added that “the Coronavirus situation is unprecedented and moving so quickly that, again, it’s hard to be definitive – but there is potential for gas to make up less of the mix of electricity. However, it will still need to be called upon by our control room engineers to manage key properties of electricity such as inertia and frequency, so any change may be negligible.”

She then highlighted that the ESO is currently in the process of its Summer Outlook report, which aims to include more information on demand.

The grid is affected by other continuous factors, such as renewables expecting to grow in the coming months as the weather warms. Combining this with changing demand patterns could lead to record low demands across the UK, added Ferris.

“If the measures continue into the summer, the increase in residential demand from home working is likely to be offset by the demand in business and industrial demand. This is often connected to the distribution grids at higher voltage levels, so the impact on the distribution grid will vary. And if summer demand falls to historically low levels, renewable generation is likely to be constrained to ensure that grid stability can be managed.

He concluded: “While National Grid ESO is aiming to manage periods of zero carbon from 2025, there is a risk due to COVID-19 that demand will fall below the level of solar, wind and nuclear generation. The summer outlook report will be essential reading this year – forecast daytime minimum demand may drop below 20GW for the first time.”

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