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COVID-19 drives down demand as lockdown affects usage patterns

Throughout the 24 March, energy demand in the UK was already around 20% lower.

Throughout the 24 March, energy demand in the UK was already around 20% lower.

As the country goes into lockdown, the power demand profile is changing due to the shutdown of offices and industry.

On Monday (23 March) night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK would begin a lockdown in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, following in the footsteps of countries like Italy and Spain.

As such, all non-essential workers must now work from home where possible, leaving the house only for essential shopping, one form of exercise daily, to care for a vulnerable person and to fulfill any medical needs.

With such a change to the day to day activities of UK residents, the demand for electricity has also changed, falling from the average in March 2019 of 33.92GW to 31.2GW yesterday.

This is being driven by a drop in industrial and commercial (I&C) usage in particular, as offices and factories have shut their doors. Entech company Limejump suggested that this was set to continue as the UK moves further into the three week lockdown, as I&C demand currently makes up around 45% of UK demand, while in the continent where the lockdown is more advanced, a total fall in demand of 10-20% is very possible, it stated.

Throughout the 24 March, energy demand in the UK was already around 20% lower than it had been on the 3 March, just three weeks earlier, said Limejump.

The pattern was reiterated by Electron’s strategy director Jon Ferris, who said: “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.”

Thus far the pattern of demand hasn’t changed sufficiently to cause any problems, explained Roisin Quinn, the head of the control room at National Grid ESO, in a Q&A published on the ESO's website today.

“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. We don’t expect significant changes to this but again it’s something we’re monitoring closely.”

The impact began even before the lockdown officially came into place, according to research by Octopus Energy, as up to 30% of UK households changed their usage patterns in the week beginning 16 March. The company looked at smart meter data from 115,000 households, finding that households had increased their daytime use of energy by 2-4%, increasing electricity bills by between £1.34 and £2.85 per week on average.

Moving forwards, its likely that this shift in energy demand will remain at least for the period of the lockdown. Beyond this, however, it will depend on the measures that remain in place 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 highlighted that the ESO is currently working on its Summer Outlook report, which they hope will include more details regarding demand.

Other factors continue to affect the grid, with generation from renewables such as solar expected to grow in coming months as the weather is likely to continue to be sunny and mild.

Combined with changing demand patterns, this could lead to record low demand 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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