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The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has released modeling to showcase, and help industry understand,  the impact of COVID-19 on electricity demand patterns.

As the world continues to respond to COVID-19, an increase in people working and learning from home and major businesses and public services disruptions have had a dramatic impact on Australia’s electricity demand.

There are many factors that drastically affect demand on any given day, so quantifying the actual impact of the pandemic on the grid’s electricity demand is not straight-forward. 

Unbundling the impact of COVID-19 from factors such as temperature, humidity, cloud cover, day of the week, time of the year, and the amount of rooftop-PV installed can be challenging.

In order to meet these challenges, AEMO’s Operational Forecasting team has been working with global forecasting experts, and other grid operators in Europe and the US, to develop state of the art models to help us isolate COVID-19 impacts from the normal variation in demand patterns.

AEMO’s approach has been to create a forecasting model that has been ‘frozen in time’ before the advent of the pandemic. To do this, AEMO feeds actual weather conditions and current level of installed rooftop-PV into this model and it provides an estimate of what demand would have been before COVID-19.  

This allows AEMO to then compare actual demands with this forecast, knowing that all the other variables have been factored in by the model – any difference between actual and the ‘frozen forecast’ is due to COVID-19 impacts.

COVID-19 impacts on load shape

AEMO has observed that morning peaks in all states are now slightly later than usual and afternoon peaks slightly earlier. This would seem to be consistent with changes in commuting patterns with people working from home in large numbers.

NSW operational demand 7 April 2020 versus pre-Covid-19 ‘frozen in time’ model. Demand reductions observed across whole day, with a later morning peak and earlier afternoon peak compared to typical shape for this time of year

COVID-19 impacts on demand

AEMO has observed COVID-19 demand reductions predominantly in Queensland and New South Wales. Impacts have been gradually expanding over time as restrictions have tightened.  From the period 1-16 April, AEMO observed:

  • Weekday reductions in NSW demand in the order of eight to ten per cent (approx. 600MW) in the morning, and six to eight per cent (approx. 500MW) in the afternoon. The evening peak is the least impacted time of day, with average reductions of three to five percent (approx. 200MW to 400MW).
  • Weekend impacts in NSW appear to be lower, with consistent reductions of five to six per cent (approx. 300MW) across most of the day except for the evening peak which appears to only be marginally impacted by approximately one per cent.
  • Weekday reductions in demand across the day in QLD are in the order of 6 per cent (approx. 300MW) with the greatest impact being seen in the mornings. As with NSW, the impacts are less on weekends.

There has also been evidence to suggest that some impact is becoming apparent in Victoria and South Australia too, however, it is too early to be conclusive at this stage. AEMO will continue to monitor both states closely.

To date, Tasmania is not demonstrating any demand reductions outside of natural variance and weather-related demand responsiveness. That, however, does not mean that there are no impacts in these states – just that any changes are not apparent at a grid scale.

Easter Weekend

Demand in holiday periods was already at very low levels due to the routine closures on public holidays and weekends in consumer destinations such as shopping centres. In line with this seasonality, reductions in demand over the 2020 Easter weekend, even in Queensland and New South Wales, were minimal and demand was consistent with previous years.

Summary

Australia, overall, has seen only moderate reductions in demand over the past few weeks, with the impacts increasing incrementally over time. 

Much greater reductions have taken place internationally, particularly in countries like Spain, France and Italy, where tighter COVID-19 restrictions and full lockdowns have been implemented. Demand reductions in the order of 20 to 30 per cent have been observed in those countries.

AEMO expects that reductions in demand may continue to increase incrementally over time at current levels of restrictions and anticipates that Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania may also begin to exhibit changes in demand. However, as some states and territories take steps to ease restrictions, this could impact these changes.

In addition, AEMO expects that as cooler weather prevails, an increase in load volatility may appear, reflective of a greater proportion of residential (weather sensitive) load on the grid.

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