May 28, 2020

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Corona virus over a graph

Data Corner: How the Pandemic Has Affected EBCE Load

The shelter in place order (PDF) made by Bay Area public health agencies on March 16, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has had a profound effect on life in the East Bay. With all but essential businesses closed, many of the 1.6 million citizens of Alameda County are staying home.

Electricity demand is a reflection of economic and social activity, and EBCE is seeing some notable changes as energy demand follows people from business and schools to home.

While overall demand is down 5-8% compared to the same time period last year (adjusting for differences in weather), household demand is up by 1%-6% after weather adjustment.

Across EBCE’s member cities, demand drops have ranged from 13% (17% weather adjusted) in Emeryville to 3% (1% weather adjusted) in Piedmont, compared to last year.

Of course, these numbers are constantly changing as households and businesses adapt to a changing socio-economic landscape.

Daily load shapes — the rise and fall over the course of a day — are also changing. Weekdays used to see higher demand, and bigger and more pronounced peaks, especially on Mondays. Now, like for many of us, the difference between weekdays and weekends is shrinking.

“From an operational perspective, a flatter load shape is better,” says Taj Ait-Laoussine, Vice President of Technology and Data Analytics. “Smaller peaks means we don’t have to buy as much expensive peak power.”

Residential load shapes especially are different. Where household demand used to dip during the day, as people went to work, it is now staying up, as people shelter in place. And the morning rise in energy demand is coming later. “Maybe people are waking up later since they don’t have to commute,” guesses Ait-Laoussine.

The interactive figure below shows weather-adjusted demand for periods before and after the shelter-in-place order.

Similar trends are being seen all over the world. In Italy, demand dropped by 17% after nationwide shelter-in-place orders were instituted; some regions saw declines of as much as 21%.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) released an analysis (PDF) of statewide load for the weeks following Gov. Newsom’s statewide stay-at-home order on March 20. They found that weekday demand dropped by 4.5%, with reductions in peak demand of up to 7%. On weekends, average load fell by only 0.5%, with a 3% drop in peak. These reductions were enough to drop the price of energy by $8 in the day-ahead market and $9 in the real-time market.

Even though demand dropped, the sun kept shining and the wind kept blowing, meaning California was getting a higher percentage of its power from solar and wind energy. CAISO’s load was served by over half renewables for 30% of the time between the statewide shelter-in-place order on March 20 and the end of April. It passed 66% on 20 days (mostly in April), and exceeded 75% in 14 different hours.

Utility-scale solar power alone served over half of CAISO load on 18 occasions, nearly all in the last half of April. (CAISO data does not include distributed solar systems sited on the customer-side of the meter. That is another 1.1 million small solar systems adding up to 9,269 MW, according to the latest CPUC data.)

Renewable generation across all hours was 36.1% in the five weeks after March 20, compared to 26% in the weeks before.

Long term impacts from the pandemic remain to be seen. Counties are starting to lift parts of their shelter-in-place orders as public safety landmarks are met, assuming infection rates continue to decline. Business activity will gradually pick up, increasing demand for electricity and shifting load back to the non-residential sector.

“Economic activity and energy demand are closely linked,” says Ait-Laoussine. “But I’m afraid that some businesses may not be coming back, as we head into a potentially severe economic recession.”