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Meeting Consumer Utility Demands Amid COVID-19

image credit: Photo by My Foto Canva on Unsplash

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, life has become drastically different for people around the world. Some of these changes affect the utility sector. Here are some trends that energy professionals should remain mindful of throughout this worldwide crisis. 

Energy Demands Are Down Around the Globe

Lockdowns around the world mean many employees must work from home as factories shut down operations — unless government authorities decide those organizations provide essential services. 

A report published in early March found that the coronavirus was already stifling energy demand at that time. It cited various statistics, including how the industrial sector comprises 40% of power demand in Germany, and that peak demand was 5.9% lower in Italy compared to the previous week, even before officials announced a lockdown. 

Cody Moore, head of gas and power trading at Mercuria Energy America LLC, noted that the drastic change in people's work patterns poses challenges to grid operators attempting to make hourly forecasts. He explained, "We have grid operators that are trying to forecast scenarios that they’ve never seen before. The only thing we can conclude for sure is it probably increases volatility."

Analysts at Bruegel, a think tank based in Brussels, provided four weeks of data for peak-hour electricity consumption in several European cities and the United Kingdom. Researchers confirmed that the amounts used this year versus last fell in France, Germany, Italy, Span, Poland and the United Kingdom. 

The team pointed out that factors beyond COVID-19 affect electricity usage, and it cited temperature as the most important. Additionally, national holidays impact the electricity used. Even so, the coronavirus seems to have a measurable influence on electricity needs around the world. 

​​​​​​​Utility Providers Offer Generators to Assist Demands

When companies need to rely on backup power, they often invest in used stationary or mobile generators. Taking that approach keeps costs down without sacrificing reliability. Businesses may use generator power to assist at festivals, construction sites and more. These machines play essential roles as the coronavirus pandemic unfolds, too. 

In Wyoming, Crusoe Energy Systems and Mesa Natural Gas Solutions are both donating computational resources to a project devoted to analyzing potential COVID-19 treatments. Mesa Natural Gas also provided generators that doubled the initiative's scale. 

Another generator-related development concerns Iberdrola SA, a Spanish utility giant. It recently began reviewing the electricity infrastructures of hundreds of public and private medical facilities in Spain and will provide backup generator power as needed. The brand also established a 24-hour hotline for medical professionals to call regarding their electrical distribution needs. 

Utility Company Representatives Ask for Priority Testing

Coronavirus testing efforts around the world have encountered numerous obstacles that limit the ability to screen as many people as intended. Thus, testing supply shortages and similar challenges required some countries to prioritize certain groups, such as medical workers. 

The Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) recently published a document asserting that "mission essential" power industry workers should be within a prioritized testing group, too. The four-page publication advocates for sequestration, particularly for those who work in close quarters with others by design. It also requests advance testing for a shift's worth of people who may need to step in as the backup crew if colleagues become sick. 

Near the end of the document, the group provided four cases of power plant professionals suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19. That conclusion strengthens the broader argument that failing to test utility professionals could negatively impact utility companies and electricity access. 

The Pandemic Doesn't Cause an Immediate Power Outage Risk 

With much of everyday life in flux due to the coronavirus, some people understandably wonder if they should worry about widespread power outages. Utility providers are hard at work to ensure that does not happen. Some are also planning for the possibility of power plant workers living on-site at their jobs to minimize the coronavirus spread. Energy sector professionals at one organization previously did that during Hurricane Sandy and a 2003 blackout. 

John MacWilliams is a former associate deputy secretary of the Department of Energy and a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. He believes utility providers may encounter difficulties if COVID-19 is still a problem in the autumn. 

He clarified, "If this crisis extends into the fall, we're going to hit hurricane season. Utilities are doing a very good job right now, but if we get unlucky and have an active hurricane season, they're going to get very stressed because the number of workers that are available to repair damage and restore power will become more limited."

In the United Kingdom, many tabloid news publications suggested people should stock up on flashlights and prepare for outages. However, Basil Scarsella, the CEO of UK Power Networks, said, "Power will stay on in the UK. The power system’s reliability is better than anywhere else in Europe and one of the best in the world — that’s not going to change in this period."

Scarsella stated that his organization recently sent a letter to vulnerable customers to urge preparedness in the unlikely event of a power outage. Some media outlets took that action out of context. 

​​​​​​​Providers Must Stay Alert During the COVID-19 Outbreak

This overview profiles some of the most recent trends in electricity access and demand. Situations may evolve, however. Professionals should continually monitor for new developments.

Jenna Tsui's picture

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 21, 2020

With much of everyday life in flux due to the coronavirus, some people understandably wonder if they should worry about widespread power outages. Utility providers are hard at work to ensure that does not happen. Some are also planning for the possibility of power plant workers living on-site at their jobs to minimize the coronavirus spread. Energy sector professionals at one organization previously did that during Hurricane Sandy and a 2003 blackout. 

I'm curious to see what the impact may be during hurricane season (since I live right in the heart of it), and how potential needs for distancing may come into play. Though from what I've seen, all storm related outages across the country have seen pretty swift repair that showed no real delay compared with previous, non-pandemic storms. Kudos are warranted to all utilities and line workers for this reliability!

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