Falling and rising electricity consumption at the start of the pan
Global electricity consumption fell by an unprecedented amount in the first six weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Just six months later, he had made a full recovery. Moreover, the factors that were strongly associated with the initial declines in electricity consumption were not strongly related to its rebound.
That’s what a team of researchers from Stanford University and Oregon State University found. in a study published online by the journal iScience in January. In April 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, electricity consumption fell by 7.6% worldwide, which was greater and much faster than the 7% drop observed during the crisis financial year of 2008. The apparent causes of the early reductions in consumption – such as government restrictions on in-person work, schooling, travel and social much less correlated with recovery times. In general, the larger the initial decline in a country’s consumption, the slower its recovery, with extreme examples being India and Italy.
“Our question was: how is the global power system responding to the pandemic? noted Ram Rajagopal, co-lead author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford. “We focused specifically on electricity consumption due to changes in habits and behaviors throughout the pandemic.”
A global scale
The team of researchers drew their conclusions from a dataset encompassing 58 countries and regions within countries, 60% of the world’s population and 75% of global electricity consumption. The initial drop was generally strongly correlated with the strictness of a government’s lockdown. Due to home orders and the resulting reduced mobility, residential consumption has increased, while commercial and industrial consumption has decreased, leading to a marked reduction in use.
Other factors, such as geography, were not as strongly correlated. The declines varied between countries within the same continent and between regions within the same country. Almost every continent has seen at least one country’s electricity consumption drop dramatically, and at least one country’s consumption has been largely unaffected. In South America, Argentina was hit hard while Chile’s consumption was about the same. In the United States, the Carolinas saw a sharp decline, while declines were moderate in New England and the Northeast.
The researchers did not expect electricity consumption to rebound so quickly. Nor did they expect factors strongly associated with the decline to decouple from recovery patterns.
“In September or October 2020, global consumption had recovered. This was surprising, especially because many countries still had restrictions in place. It appears that changes in electricity consumption were more closely linked to restriction levels at the start of the pandemic, but they decoupled as consumption picked up,” said Lily BuchlerPhD student and one of the study’s two principal research students.
People probably started to deviate from the habits initially adopted by returning to work and school, shopping more and socializing, regardless of changes in government restrictions, the researchers believe.
In search of an explanation
The study looked at several factors that may have contributed to the recovery in drinking rates.
“The magnitude of the change was not necessarily related to the magnitude of the mobility restrictions or changes. This was what people had previously expected, but it turned out not to be the best predictors,” Rajagopal said.
The decline in gross domestic product (GDP) appears to be related to initial reductions in electricity consumption, but not to rebounds in countries’ electricity consumption.
“I think the pattern reflects that the world has changed,” said Siobhan Powell, co-lead author of the study with Buechler. “The pandemic has affected the link between economic activity and electricity consumption, as many people have adopted new ways of working. The different world we found ourselves in during the second half of 2020 was reflected in the relationships in this study.
India and Italy stood out in their respective regions as having the most severe declines in electricity consumption, averaging 26% at their lowest point in late March. They were also among the countries with the slowest return to pre-pandemic consumption levels. Their average consumption fell to less than 5% of the expected use in July. By contrast, power consumption in fast-recovering countries, which typically had a less severe initial decline, recovered before the end of May.
In terms of geographic scope, the study was the largest to examine pandemic electricity patterns. While several previous studies attempted to estimate the effects of the pandemic, most of their data was limited to countries where data was most readily available, primarily the United States and Europe.
The team sees many future applications for their research.
“It’s actually unusual to have an event like the pandemic affect so many different countries at the same time. It gave us an interesting opportunity to compare responses between countries that have experienced very different COVID-related policies,” Buechler said.
“One of the applications of our study is preparing for future shocks to electrical systems,” Powell said.
As climate change causes increasingly unpredictable events around the world, it is important that power systems can handle the shock of sudden and drastic changes in electricity consumption. In order to build resilience to events that may affect network operation and forecasts, power system operators need to understand and anticipate the effects of such events,
“If utilities could use what we found here about how electricity use changes when things go down, they might be better informed about what will happen when things might go down in the future. due to the pandemic or other crises”, mentioned Hilary BoudetPhD ’10, co-lead author and associate professor of sociology and public policy at Oregon State.
The researchers hope that their work will continue to contribute to this understanding. They released their code and data in hopes that other researchers could use their findings to further analyze the impacts of the pandemic on the power system, Buechler explained.
The other co-authors of this study – all at Stanford – are June Flora, principal investigator; Tao Sun, doctoral student; and postdocs Chad Zanocco, Jose Bolorinos, and Nicolas Astier (former).
Funding for this work was provided by the National Science Foundation and a Stanford Graduate Fellowship.
The title of the article
Global changes in electricity consumption during COVID-19
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