• July 7, 2020

    New Electricity Data Show Impact of Coronavirus Response

    Stephen Eule

The latest data released from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) demonstrates just how big the impact of the coronavirus has been on U.S. electricity demand. EIA’s latest Electric Power Monthly (EPM), includes data for April 2020—the first full month that includes lockdowns in response to the pandemic.

Let’s start off with electricity sales. Total sales dropped 4.1% in April compared to April 2019. Given how much activity was curtailed, it is not surprising that the biggest drops were in commercial (-11.2%) and industrial (-9.1%) sectors. With stay-at-home policies in place, however, residential electricity sales in April rose a strong 8.4% from their previous year levels.

The generation mix also has changed. Electricity generation in April 2020 was 6.8% lower than April 2019, with the biggest drop coming in coal-fired generation, which fell 32.6% compared to April 2019. Generation from natural gas and renewables, however, both posted modest gains from year-ago levels. Increasing market share from these two sources continuesto be a trend in the generation mix. 

Using EPM data, it’s possible to arrive at pretty accurate estimate of carbon dioxide emissions. We estimate that total power Sector CO2 emissions in April 2020 were roughly 17% lower than a year ago, mostly due to a 31% drop in emissions from coal-fired plants. Emission from natural gas, which we noted above has been taking market share from coal plants, rose close to 3% above the April 2019 level.

Overall, the policy response to the coronavirus has had a very large impact on the electricity sector. Next month, when electricity data for May are made available (as well as total energy data for April), we’ll have a better understanding of how the economic shutdown has affected the power sector.

As wrenching as the effects of the virus have been, it’s worth noting that power companies and utilities have continued to provide electricity safely and reliably. We previously documented the extraordinary efforts of the electricity sector to continue service under difficult circumstances.