With the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing, there is intensifying pressure on the electricity network. With factories closing and reduced fuel-consuming transport, we must not forget that data centers and server-farms are also big energy demanding industries which represent approximately two percent of the total electricity use in the United States. Instead of being in the office where utilities are shared, work-from-home or stay-at-home orders are causing a significant shift in electricity demand.
In China, electricity use dropped approximately 8% for the first quarter of 2020 - with their industrial sector using 12% less and their textile industry seeing a whopping 30% decline. When Italy went into lockdown and closed businesses, there was an approximate 20% decline in electricity demand and New York is seeing drops of up to 18%, especially in the morning hours.
Yet, the power grid is no stranger to contingency plans. From wildfires to hurricanes, utility providers have to be prepared in times of uncertainty. Past experience with large-scale disasters has helped the energy sector keep the lights on during this pandemic and energy is one of the 16 sectors that the U.S. government has designated as “critical infrastructure”.
However, one disaster can be managed but when you start adding another one, it becomes challenging. John MacWilliams, a former associate deputy secretary of the Department of Energy, states, “If this crisis extends into the fall, we’re going to hit hurricane season. Utilities are doing a very good job but if we get unlucky and have an active hurricane season, they’re going to get very stressed because the number of workers that are available to repair damage and restore power will become more limited.”
So far, utilities and grid operators have managed to make it work. Many major utilities across the nation have already vowed to suspend shut-offs which can be a major concern for people who may be out of work and unable to pay their bills. Like other businesses, utilities are focusing on keeping the workforce healthy and operations running.