Coronavirus: ‘Fundamental shift’ in electricity use, says Eirgrid

Consumers spreading breakfast time, cooking at lunchtime, preparing dinner earlier

There is a “fundamental shift” in the way Ireland is consuming electricity as stay-at-home workers reduce demand in the morning peak but increase it at lunchtime, Eirgrid said.

Engineers at Eirgrid’s National Control Centre analysed electricity demand before and after the coronavirus pandemic changed many people’s work patterns.

The analysis shows people working from home tend to be starting to prepare their dinner earlier.

The days compared were last Tuesday March 26th, and March 26th a year earlier when temperature and sunlight intensity, which can influence how electricity is consumed, were very similar.

Tuesday of this week saw demand during the morning peak fall by 200 megawatts, enough electricity to power up to 150,000 homes.

The analysis also shows higher-than-normal demand for electricity at lunchtime, but it does not appear to be explained as people reverting to having their dinner in the middle of the day.

The steep rise in demand that represents people preparing the evening meal began earlier this week, starting just before 5pm, whereas in 2019 it seems demand for power did not really start to rise until 6pm or slightly after. Overall though, the amount of electricity consumed remained about the same as 2019.

Eirgrid chief executive Mark Foley said demand for electricity is normally very predictable, which means the grid operator can plan for it very accurately.

“Demand initially peaks in the morning as people get ready for work. It then flattens out during the day, peaking again in the evening when people return home and put on cookers, lights, TVs and other electrical devices. This usually occurs just after 6.00pm.”

But he said the analysis performed this week by Eirgrid revealed “a fundamental shift in how electricity is being consumed during the crisis”.

He said the most obvious illustration of the change was a much slower demand for electricity in the morning, as much of the population is staying at home.

The utility said generation capacity was well in advance of demand, and in February a record 56 per cent of demand was met by wind energy. This is the highest monthly total since records began; beating the previous record of 47 percent set in February 2019. The figure for January 2020 was 41 per cent.

Separately, Gas and electricity network operators have suspended all non-essential activity.

Gas Networks Ireland and ESB Networks said there was no threat to energy supplies or to connections serving vulnerable users.

Gas Networks Ireland has suspended non-essential meter replacement, reading of meters in a dwelling and non-essential service connections.

External work, where possible, is continuing. New connections to the gas network are being reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Denis O’Sullivan, managing director of Gas Networks Ireland, said the move was taken in line with Government advice to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But he emphasised all operations, particularly those ensuring security of supply, would continue.

Emergency services will continue to operate as normal, and the advice to immediately report smells of gas remain in place .

Emergency gas credit has been increased from €10 to €100 for customers with pay-as-you-go meters, and disconnections have been suspended – unless there’s a safety issue.

The move has been mirrored by ESB Networks, which said its emergency teams were operating with as few as one person, in a bid to halt the spread of the corona virus.

ESB Networks employs 1,550 network technicians, and these can be supplemented by contractors when required. ESB Networks said “not all staff are involved in what could be considered customer facing business”, which include public safety emergencies, fault restoration and new supply connections.

The utility said a significant number of staff were involved in planned refurbishment and maintenance works that can be deferred for a period.

“We are taking all precautions to protect our staff and have contingency plans for significantly reduced staff levels” said a spokesman.

Source: Tim O’Brien, The Irish Times, March 30th 2020