Energy Use Shifts to Residential during COVID- 19 Pandemic

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone across the globe has altered just about everything from work schedules to shopping habits and schooling to socializing. Now, the effect on energy use has also become apparent: Energy use is shifting to residential consumption with overall use down.

One regional example of how energy use has shifted is documented by this blog from Pecan Street, an Austin, Texas-based energy and water research organization. For about a decade, Pecan Street has been monitoring second-by-second energy use from more than 100 homes in Austin. This research includes keeping tabs on individual circuits such as heating and cooling, EV charging and refrigerators.

Among the non-profit research organization’s recent findings:

Residential demand is higher throughout the day.

Compared to three previous March snapshots of energy use, March 2020 saw an increase of 20 percent in residential energy use. And as the month progressed and more health professionals recommended staying at home to flatten the curve of the virus outbreak, energy use increased.

Duck curve fluctuates.

As Austin residents in Pecan Street’s research started staying home more, the duck curve started changing. The duck curve is a graph of hourly power production that shows the timing imbalance between peak demand and renewable energy production. And because many of the homes in Pecan Street’s research group utilize rooftop solar systems, this localized research demonstrates what is likely occurring elsewhere with other communities that generate significant solar power. During March 2020, higher temperatures required homes to use more self-generated energy than on typical days, which flatted the belly, or daytime use, as part of the duck-shaped graph. Then, the neck section of the graph, which correlates to evening hour energy use, steepened because of residents were at home more than usual.

Refrigerators working hard.

Pecan Street’s system-by-system research found that demand placed on refrigerators has sharply increased. In addition to more frequent opening and closing with more residents at home during the day, more warm leftovers are likely being stored which required more energy to cool.

HVAC units powered up to keep families cool.

One of the most significant demands on energy in Austin is cooling, even in March. Even accounting for variations in weather, during March 2020, residents are using 40 percent more energy for home cooling.

With no place to go, EV chargers used less.

The Austin mayor issued a stay-at-home order on March 24, but already many residents were keeping put. Decreasing EV charger use showed that the cars were staying in the garages.

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The Good Energy Team

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