Multiscale effects masked the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on electricity demand in the United States

Casey D. Burleyson, Aowabin Rahman, Jennie S. Rice, Amanda D.Smith and Nathalie Voisin

DOI: 10.1016/j.apenergy.2021.117711

Abstract:

Shelter-in-place orders and business closures related to COVID-19 changed the hourly profile of electricity demand and created an unprecedented source of uncertainty for the grid. The potential for continued shifts in electricity profiles has implications for electricity sector investment and operating decisions that maintain reserve margins and provide grid reliability. This study reveals that understanding this uncertainty requires an understanding of the underlying drivers at the customer-class scale. This paper utilizes three datasets to compare the impacts of COVID-19 on electricity consumption across a range of spatiotemporal and customer scales. At the utility/customer-class scale, COVID-19-induced shutdowns in the spring of 2020 shifted weekday residential load profiles to resemble weekend profiles from previous years. Total commercial loads declined, but the commercial diurnal load profile was unchanged. With only total loads available at the balancing authority scale, the apparent impact of COVID-19 was smaller during the summer due in part to phased re-opening and spatial variability in re-opening, but there were still clear variations once total loads were broken down zonally. Monthly data at the state scale showed an increase in state-level residential electricity sales, a decrease in commercial sales, and a small net decrease in total sales in most states from April-August 2020. Analyses that focus on total load or a single scale may miss important changes that become apparent when the load is broken down regionally or by customer class.

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