ORIGINAL REPORTING: Amid Pandemic Uncertainty, A Potential Future Takes Shape
As utilities tackle immediate COVID-19 impacts, analysts stress need to focus beyond the pandemic; Power systems across the country need new approaches for today's shifting loads, but focusing on recovery and tomorrow’s resources can be even better, analysts say.
Herman K. Trabish, May 20, 2020 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: Usage is beginning normalize but remains far from normal and industry leaders continue to see an uncertain future.
Data now verifies a pandemic-driven collapsing commercial-industrial (C&I) electricity load is only partially offset by sheltering-at-home customers' spiking residential usage. Utilities have implemented measures to help residential customers cope with rising powerbills. But some utility leaders and analysts are thinking beyond today's uncertainties and looking instead toward tomorrow's system needs in light of these shifting load dynamics, they told Utility Dive.
Because of the economic turmoil, "a sharp recovery to previous 'normal' daily load shapes is unlikely without new stimulus efforts," Energy Innovation Senior Fellow Eric Gimon told Utility Dive. But "utilities are safer equities than most in this storm, so it could be a moment for CEOs to pursue new electrification revenues and expenditures for system flexibility they will need going forward."
The growing "emphasis on energy efficiency and clean and alternative resources" will present new "opportunities for economic development as the economy reopens," Consolidated Edison (ConEd) spokesperson Allan Drury agreed. "Coming out of the pandemic, customers and regulators are likely to set higher expectations for reliability" that require new "smart investments" that will be "good for the economy," he told Utility Dive.
Disconnection moratoria and bill relief address near term needs, and keeping close track of shifting load data is vital, but the better question is what tomorrow's power system can be, utility spokespeople and system analysts told Utility Dive. For system operators across the country, C&I loads are sharply down and residential use is rising, but with flatter peaks. Overall, U.S. load was down 6.5% in April, according to a May 12 Brattle Group report.
A sampling of residential demand showed an average 12% increase and that C&I demand was off by an average of 31% through April 27, consulting firm ICF reported May 3. Average "daily peak demand dropped by 10%" from April 27 to May 3, but has since "reached relative steady state," it found. Meanwhile, utilities face new challenges created by the shifting C&I and residential loads.
Demand from residential air conditioning is up "about 40%," which is "a real concern" for system operators and customers, Scott Hinson, chief technology officer at consumer energy data specialist Pecan Street, told Utility Dive. Because residential customers' usage is atypically high, local utilities could face higher transmission charges and ERCOT could face reliability challenges in summer months, Hinson said. To protect reliability and keep customer bills low, Austin Energy and other utilities "probably need to ask residential customers for changes in behavior," like reducing home cooling or using public cooling centers during heat waves, he added… click here for more