In March /April 2020, as the country shut down due to the then novel Coronavirus pandemic, we witnessed a sweeping change in energy consumption patterns across the UK. As workplaces limited staff access to enable social distancing, or closed their doors completely, electricity consumption plummeted. As the pandemic progresses, we are seeing noteworthy productivity patterns shift with every new breakthrough or setback in the national response to Covid-19.
When Covid first hit the economy, there emerged a big decrease in the Half Hourly (HH) metered electricity volumes being recorded and sent across the energy industry’s Data Transfer Service (DTS). HH meters are installed at all Industrial & Commercial (I&C), non-domestic (i.e. not household or SME) sites, such as factories, warehouses, transit hubs and other large facilities. Therefore, it is a reasonable assumption that the amount of energy being used at these sites can be used as a proxy for economic activity. Total volumes show a small amount of recovery in 2021, but still a fair way below the pre-pandemic years.
To more clearly establish the impacts of the Covid pandemic, we took the average of the previous two years, and compared the volumes in 2020 and 2021 on the equivalent working day of the year. This showed that in the early months in the first lockdown, there was a nationwide decrease in electricity consumption of over 30% on previous years (and April 2020 was 26% down on February 2020).
As the country slowly adapted to the situation and more industries reopened, electricity consumption increased and levelled off at around 9% below the pre-pandemic average until the second (November 2020) and third (December-April 2021) lockdowns happened in quick succession.
In those winter lockdowns, the impacts were less severe than the first lockdown of 2020, but consumption was still down over 15% on the pre-pandemic period. Throughout 2021, following the country re-opening to a greater extent, that levelled out, but was still around 8% up until recent weeks.
What we cannot ascertain here is how much of that might be driven by other factors affecting the Britain’s economy, such as the well-documented supply chain and labour issues. There may also be some effect from the growth of embedded generation – BEIS’ statistics suggest that small-scale solar capacity has grown by 10% in the last two years, but that would not result in an 8% drop in I&C demand.
However, with the emergence of the Omicron variant, what we have seen is consumption drop off to the same levels as the pre-Christmas lockdown in 2020, but without any government mandates beyond increased working from home. This suggests that the move away from office work may have been a significant factor in the drop in I&C consumption (the start of the Omicron-related drop-off exactly matches up with the introduction of ‘Plan B’ public health measures on 8 December 2021).
If greater working from home is driving these I&C decreases, we might expect to see some of that consumption pushed back into the domestic market, with people at home all day, heating their home, keeping lights on, using computers for longer etc. And we can see this increase across the last two years, since the start of the first lockdown in 2020, with a trend in domestic consumption over 4% higher for much of the year due to homeworking.
There may be some weather-related impact here, and the nature of domestic metering makes the figures less accurate on a day-by-day basis, but the fact there is a flip into mostly positive change from March 2020 suggests that WFH is likely to have had a significant impact on I&C consumption. For comparison, across the year, I&C electricity consumption volumes are typically around 30% higher than domestic.
Regionally, the impacts of lockdowns on I&C electricity consumption have varied. London has been the worst affected over-all, potentially due to its electrified mass-transit system and high amounts of homeworking. The lowest overall impact from Covid has been in Wales, which covers a largely rural area, and the East Midlands, where there is a high amount of manufacturing, such as textiles.
In 2022, we would like to explore these impacts further by enriching our dataset with information about the sites consuming this energy to see if we can glean any understanding of the impacts on different sectors of the British economy.
If you have any questions on these insights or would like to know more about the datasets I work with at ElectraLink, please feel free to message me on LinkedIn or email [email protected].
Words by Ian Scougal, Product Manager EMI Services
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.