All over the world, the measures undertaken to control the spread of COVID-19 have been unprecedented in recent history. These precautionary measures have let to a slowdown in most sectors with the travel and aviation sectors coming to a grinding halt. This slowdown has already started showing its effects on Britain’s energy system. There have been drastic short-term changes in the past few months with the disruption being on the demand side – the product is still available, but the demand has reduced.
There are 3 main factors that have contributed to a reduction in energy demand:
1. Demand for petroleum products and aviation fuel is plunging
Due to an enormous reduction in flights, public transport and road traffic, April was expected to record the lowest monthly liquid fuels demand since 1998. A greater than 40% reduction will follow if the UK further restricts the movement of people.
2. Weekdays look like weekends
Typically there is a 10-20% drop between a weekday and a weekend day, depending on the time of year. The demand for electricity has dropped sharply since the closure of shops, factories, offices and even essential services under severe restrictions. The demand for electricity on the normal working day continues to be closer to that of a weekend or bank holiday. Following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement (on Monday 23 March) caused an immediate 5-10% reduction in electricity demand. Last time demand was this low for the month of March was back in 1975, a further indication of how the COVID -19 measures are changing people’s routines, and the energy they use to underpin these. April’s demand is most likely to fall even further because even more people are now working from home and schools are shut. This has also caused another interesting effect. The normal morning ‘peak’ of electricity use has flattened out as electrical appliances used are spread over a longer period. Something similar happens on Sunday mornings.
3. Declining carbon emissions
An overall drop in demand means a proportionate decrease in emissions since so many people now don’t use petrol, diesel and especially aviation fuel. The reduction in air and car travel is expected to significantly lower carbon emissions in April, even while factoring in an increase in delivery services for food and other essentials. Less electrical demand also means coal and some gas power plants can be turned down or switched off, and a greater proportion of demand can be met with low-carbon generation.
It is clear that measures to control the spread of the COVID-19 are already having significant effects on Britain’s energy systems. After the quarantine period ends in the following months it may even be that overall energy demand will rebound back even further to take advantage of cheaper fossil fuels, thus bucking the trend of extraordinary reductions in energy use and carbon intensity over the past decade.