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How energy usage changed during coronavirus lockdown

Commercial and industrial electricity demand fell sharply but rose in residential properties

‘In the early days of the lockdown we saw an increase of up to 20 per cent in consumption where people were working from home.’ Photograph: iStock

‘In the early days of the lockdown we saw an increase of up to 20 per cent in consumption where people were working from home.’ Photograph: iStock


According to research carried out by the International Energy Agency, global electricity demand dropped to Sunday levels during the coronavirus lockdown, with very significant reductions in commercial and industrial consumption only partially offset by higher residential use.

Demand began to recover with the reopening of economies and in June, weather corrected electricity demand was 10 per cent below the 2019 level. By July electricity demand in most EU countries had risen to just 5 per cent below 2019 levels.

Here in Ireland, property adviser Savills came together with smart energy company Pinergy to monitor energy consumption in the early months of the lockdown. During March, the first month of the lockdown, the research found that overall consumption by families was up by an average of 11 per cent with some showing increases of more than 20 per cent.

Early morning consumption had reduced by as much as 30 per cent as families got out of bed later with no offices or schools to go to. Conversely, consumption at home during working hours increased by 30 per cent.

Interestingly, there was a reduction after 6pm with consumption down by between 10 per cent and 20 per cent, reflecting a return to the traditional nine to five working day and families eating earlier with no commuting time involved. It was also found that people were going to bed earlier leading to a further drop in consumption throughout the evening.

Economy reopended

The analysis also found reductions among young renters (12.2 per cent) and students (22.9 per cent), with many moving back to the family home in other parts of the country or overseas. The reduction grew to 45.8 per cent the following month as the migration home continued. Energy consumption among families was up 12.4 per cent in April while professionals saw an increase of 13.4 per cent.

That trend went into reverse during the summer months as the economy reopened. The Pinergy-Savills monitor for June, the most recent month for which data is available, revealed that between March and May energy consumption in Ireland’s retail sector dropped to 57 per cent of 2019 levels. However, in June the figure rose to 86 per cent, as coronavirus restrictions were eased. The study also revealed that energy consumption among office occupiers rebounded from 53 per cent of 2019 levels between March and May, to 74 per cent in June.

Unsurprisingly, energy consumption in the hospitality sector, comprising hotels, pubs and restaurants, was just 54 per cent at the end of June. Elsewhere, energy consumption in the professional, science and technology sectors was at 79 per cent of 2019 levels in June, while agriculture – an essential service – rose from 87 per cent to 97 per cent of 2019 levels during the same month. Meanwhile, the health and leisure sector saw a small decline, from 50 per cent to 46 per cent, reflecting the fact that many health and leisure operators were unable to open due to continued social distancing measures.

“In the early days of the lockdown we saw an increase of up to 20 per cent in consumption where people were working from home,” says Pinergy’s head of marketing David Slattery. “The increase was also driven by family members such as students and older kids moving home. That accounted for the reductions among young renters and those in student accommodation. Normal patterns were changed during the lockdown but that began to change during the summer.”

That trend was also noted by David Manning, director of home energy with SSE Airtricity. “One of the biggest shifts Covid-19 has brought is the increase in the number of people who are working from home,” he says. “More time at home will likely mean more energy is consumed, particularly as we move into winter and people need to heat their homes throughout the day.”

Big difference

He has advice for people who want to bring that consumption down. “There are a lot of ways to reduce energy consumption but the message behind our Generation Green campaign is that a small change can make a big difference and it won’t compromise your level of comfort. One example is turning your thermostat down one degree.

“That can help save up to 10 per cent on your heating costs, so having a smart thermostat or remote heating control like Climote is a great way to help you control how much energy your using to heat your home. If you visit airtricity.com we have lots of hints and tips and helpful information for improving your home’s energy consumption.”

Those consumption changes have also had impacts for businesses, according to Slattery. “The lockdown provided an interesting opportunity for businesses to get a better understanding of their energy usage. In the hospitality industry, for example, some hotels which were closed found they were still using 30 per cent of the energy they had been consuming when they were open.

“They were able to walk the site and look at what was responsible and turn them off. That is forming the basis for long term savings and energy efficiencies for those businesses. They are taking those learnings and bringing them forward to the operational level for the business. If something is consuming electricity and the business is not getting revenue from it, make sure to switch it off.”