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Global power demand to fall 5% but renewables to avoid ‘historic shock’

Image: Getty.

Image: Getty.

Global electricity demand is on track to drop 5% over 2020, eight times the reduction seen in 2009 as a result of the financial crisis.

This is the conclusion drawn by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its 2020 Global Energy Review, a report examining the effects of COVID-19 on both global demand and individual generation types.

Energy demand as a whole will fall by 6% this year, with advanced economies such as the European Union and the United States likely to take the biggest hits, and are predicted to fall be 11% and 9% respectively.

Consumption patterns have also changed, with weekdays now resembling a pre-crisis Sunday. A number of EU countries initiated partial lockdowns prior to a full lockdown, resulting on average in a 17% reduction in weekly energy demand in comparison to weather corrected demand reductions of 25% in countries with more stringent lockdowns and higher shares of services in the economy.

Reductions in energy demand have been dependent on how strict lockdown measures have been. Image: IEA.
Reductions in energy demand have been dependent on how strict lockdown measures have been. Image: IEA.

For electricity demand, the IEA found that for every month of full lockdown, global electricity demand fell by 20% on average or over 1.5% on an annual basis.

After correcting for weather effects, the IEA found that full lockdowns reduced daily electricity demand by at least 15% in the UK, France, India, Italy, Spain and the northwestern region of the United States during Q1 2020.

Already in the UK, large reductions in demand have been seen since the lockdown began on 23 March. In its Summer Outlook report, National Grid ESO predicted that summer demand in the UK could fall by as much as 20% depending on the length and severity of lockdown.

However, the drop in global demand has allowed for renewables to take on a larger share of the generation mix, with the UK breaking its coal-free record earlier this week due to a combination of low demand and high levels of renewables, notably solar.

Renewables are set to be the only fuel type to grow. Image: IEA.
Renewables are set to be the only fuel type to grow. Image: IEA.

In fact, renewables will be the only energy source to grow in 2020, the IEA predicted, due to a number of large-scale projects coming online in later 2019 and early 2020, as well as the technology type being given priority access to grids in most markets and the low operating costs.

This will allow renewables to largely avoid what IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol describes as a “historic shock to the entire energy world”.

The electricity mix for China, the EU, US and India. Image: IEA.
The electricity mix for China, the EU, US and India. Image: IEA.

Solar and wind in particular are set to boost renewable electricity generation by 5% in 2020, the IEA suggested, although this will be aided by higher output from hydropower.

In Q1 2020, renewable energy demand jumped by around 1.5%, with the IEA’s analysis predicting that globally, low-carbon sources are set to reach 40% of global electricity demand in 2020, with coal set to fall by over 10%.

“It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before,” Birol added.

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