The novel coronavirus, Covid-19, approaches 6 months since it was first detected in the United States and likely 9-12 months since the first global cases were discovered. In that time, as all have experienced, the impacts of the virus have affected nearly every facet of life on the planet. One thing has not changed, though, and that is the need for electricity. Throughout this crisis, power producers have maintained the supply 24/7/365. This is a testament to the whole industry – whether it be coal, nuclear, natural gas, or renewable plants and the people running them.
Regardless of the near- and long-term effects of Covid-19 on energy markets, immediate concerns about safe and efficient operations are a top priority among generators – regardless of energy source. Electric companies have long exhibited preparedness for emergencies of all sorts. Usually this means storms, earthquakes, and other natural disasters; but planning also exists for cyber and physical attacks, as well as high “absenteeism” events like a pandemic.
Safe Operations During Covid-19
The electric power industry coordinates its efforts to plan for, prepare, and respond to all hazards that could potentially impact the energy grid – including a pandemic – through the Electricity Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC). The ESCC is led by energy industry CEOs and partners with government entities at all levels to plan and enact emergency response measures. The ESCC focuses on actions and strategies that help protect the energy grid, prevent various threats from disrupting electricity service, and develop capabilities that help the sector quickly respond and recover when major incidents impact the grid.
The ESCC-aided planning for a pandemic is different from other continuity planning because it requires preparations to operate with a significantly smaller workforce, a threatened supply chain, and limited support services. Moreover, these considerations must try to account for an extended period, with no certain end date. The continuity and pandemic plans developed by electric companies are designed to protect employees and to ensure energy operations and infrastructure are supported properly. These measures help to guarantee that generators can continue to provide safe and reliable electricity throughout an emergency. The measures are broadly categorized in three phases: alert, outbreak, and recovery.
|· Monitor the situation
· Review Company Policies
· Conduct Training Refreshers
· Communicate Plans
· Emphasize Personal Preparedness and Hygiene
|· Control the Infection
· Maintain Operations
· Remain Vigilant
· Communicate Actions Taken
|· Manage Return to Normal Operations
· Communicate Return to Normal Operations
· Review Response/Lessons Learned
Through the ESCC, electric companies plan closely with other segments of the sector and with other critical infrastructure sectors—such as communications, transportation, and emergency services—as well as contractors and suppliers to ensure that none is compromised during a pandemic.
As recognized leaders in the field of emergency preparedness, many electric companies are actively involved in their local community efforts to prepare for a pandemic. The world-class emergency planning and response skills that electric companies demonstrate in storm restoration have positioned companies as leaders in their communities—a role that they take very seriously.
Through the ESCC, and in coordination and collaboration with the Department of Energy, the electric power industry will continue to work with other federal government agencies, including the DHS, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Department of Transportation, as well as state and local authorities, to identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness of the industry’s response to disasters and other emergencies.
Electricity Supply and Demand During Covid-19
Despite the continuity of supply, there have been major disruptions in the balance of output meeting the demand. According to the IEA (International Energy Agency), the pandemic has seen the demand for energy decrease by as much as 25% in countries where full lockdown measures were enacted. The reduced demand has allowed natural gas and renewable energy sources to eat away at the already-declining share of coal power across the globe. In the United States, natural gas has remained the leading source of electricity, while renewables have far outpaced the contribution of coal-fired power plants. In May, renewables have consolidated their second position after natural gas and above both coal and nuclear.
Figure 1: This graph shows the change in electricity demand from countries where lockdown data is available, including those in Europe and Asia. (Source: IEA)
Moody’s expects the pandemic’s impact on power demand, coal generation, and carbon emissions to continue through 2020 and likely into 2021. When demand does recover, coal probably will not, Moody’s analysts said, citing “sustained low natural gas prices” that will likely trigger “accelerated retirements of out-of-the-money coal-fired power plants” along with increasingly cost-competitive power from wind and solar plants.
Whichever the source, though, it is clearly important that the generator does its utmost to remain available for safe and efficient generation during this global crisis.