There are no strangers to the current world catastrophe brought on by COVID-19. Every country, state, city, neighborhood, business, and individual has been affected by this pandemic. The health effects are obvious and present in the news every day. As the world now begins to come out of quarantine, more thought is being given to the secondary effects. How will business return to normal? How will social interactions return to normal?
It’s difficult to know what the world will look like when this is all said and done. It seems safe to assume that certain aspects of our lives will be forever changed. One area in particular that has already seen significant changes is energy. In some sense, the changes in energy consumption are obvious. People are home more often, lights are on longer, heat is used more frequently, etc. On the flip side, many businesses have gone unoccupied. This means that lights and computers can be shut off and large-scale HVAC can ramp down. Many industrial and process plants were forced to stop operating. And many facilities with commercial kitchens either shut down or operated at partial load. If we continue along that path, people have been traveling less often back and forth between work. This results in fewer cars on the road, fewer train and bus trips, less ride sharing, and so on. According to the Global Energy Review 2020 from the International Energy Agency, road transport in regions with a lockdown in place dropped between 50-75% in the United States. Electricity demand, in these same lockdown areas, was shown to drop by 20%. The rest of the world, on average, has shown similar results.
Another interesting fact, that many people may not be aware of, is that renewable energy generated more electricity than coal every day for the entire month of April. This data comes from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, who state the driving factors being reduced electricity demand and a significant increase in renewable capacity over the last year. According to a report from the same administration, this trend is expected to hold the rest of the year. The current pandemic is pushing coal generated electricity way down, with projections being as low as 19% of total electricity generation at the end of the year (which would fall below renewable and nuclear power). This is major news in the fight against climate change. Coal is responsible for more pollution than any other fossil fuel. This year alone, carbon emissions are expected to drop by 11%.
Businesses will begin to reopen, cars will slowly refill our streets, train schedules will return to normal, and the demand for energy will rise. However, if we continue to work together, the way in which we generate energy may forever be changed in a way that inspires extreme optimism for the future.
By Stephen Elliott, CEM, EMAT Lead Engineer