PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — From remote working, remote learning and increased online shopping, COVID-19 restrictions have had an undeniable impact on the last two years. Now, a new study out of Oregon State University has found that lockdowns have also affected countries’ electricity usage.
The study published in iScience in early January determined that countries with strict COVID-19 lockdowns and less local travel saw a larger decrease in electricity use than countries with relaxed rules and regulations.
Unlike isolated emergency events, such as the 2021 Texas ice storm, OSU College of Liberal Arts associate professor and study co-author Hilary Boudet said the pandemic offered a unique and level backdrop for this kind of electricity consumption research.
“It’s very rare that you have an event like the pandemic that affects so many places at a single time, so you can look comparatively across and see this heterogeneity in response,” Boudet stated in a recent press release. “COVID is not over, so knowing what happened initially, can we say something about the future? This is really important for electric utilities.”
Boudet partnered with eight Stanford University researchers to observe and compare countries’ policies and determine what variables may be impacting changes to electricity consumption.
According to their research, of the 53 countries observed in the study, electricity usage decreased by a daily average of 7.3% in April 2020.
The study found the level of impact varied among countries. In March of 2020, electricity consumption in India and Italy dropped 26% below standards, and both countries reached their lowest electricity consumption rates a month before the other regions in April.
“India and Italy had some of the most restrictive policies early on, in terms of keeping people at home, but there are other places that had restrictions that didn’t experience such a dramatic drop,” Boudet said. “It’s hard to say what it is about India and Italy specifically that led to this distinction.”
In April, the study showed 23 countries and five regions within the U.S. experienced an 11% decline in electricity use, and the other 14 countries, compiled of two Canadian provinces and seven U.S. regions saw electricity consumption rates fall only 5% below average levels.
Boudet found the rates of recovery within each region to be surprising, as most countries returned to normal electricity consumption levels by July of 2020, despite continued lockdowns.
“When everything was shut down, there was a shock to the system and a decrease in consumption, and in that early phase, it was related to government restrictions,” Boudet stated. “But as we moved forward, government restrictions became less tied to actual electricity consumption.”
As the study continued, Boudet found the decrease in energy use was linked to industrial and commercial sector declines. In a recent release she said, new research suggests residential energy consumption actually rose while people were in lockdown, but that those increases did not outweigh the decline in commercial electricity consumption.
The study found decreased local travel was connected to extreme drops in electricity use.
According to OSU, Boudet and her team hope the study’s findings may help “inform policy as the pandemic continues.” They believe this information could assist utility companies in the years to come, as the companies work to plan for future emergencies and match energy supply demands.
“If utilities could make use of what they know already of how people behave when things are shut down, they could be better informed about what will happen when things may shut down in the future because of the pandemic or other crises.”