There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has made the current demand for power less stable than in the past. Many of the old models for responding to any kind of demand are falling away. We can see some of the fallout in the falling price of oil and natural gas. This leads to the question, “What kind of strategies are people using to handle energy demand in the face of this seismic shift, regardless of how temporary it may be?”
Energy Impacts: Electricity
According to the IEA, or International Energy Agency, electrical energy demand has been fairly unstable across the last few months. Different countries are experiencing different trends. For example, when confinement rolled back in April in countries like Germany and Italy, there were some signs of energy demand recovering. By May, there was more sign of this in other countries like Great Britain, France, India, and Spain when those countries all backed away a bit from lockdowns.
Despite this, the rates remained down from the previous years in all those countries, at about 10% under what it was in 2019. By July, this had improved more. But the recovery was slow, only rising to around 5%. Only India is ending up close to the same levels as the previous year.
Even when recovery happens from COVID-19 restrictions, it’s slow. Energy demand takes months to go back up to previous levels. Given that COVID-19 will probably be resurging in the winter, current trends don’t bode well for typical power demand for the next year or so — at least.
Many medical professionals have said that a vaccine isn’t likely until at least around April of 2021. So this kind of instability in energy demand, especially when it comes to residential and commercial electricity demand, may cause poor prospects until at least that time.
Due to this sort of instability, many countries and organizations are looking to other sources to draw on for energy.
Thermal Energy Storage
Distributed energy sources are becoming more and more popular due to the falling demand for things like natural gas and other energy sources that have to be physically shipped to their final location. This is even more important in areas like the southern United States, which has multiple hurricanes preventing routine deliveries.
One distributed energy source that’s experiencing a spike is thermal energy storage.
According to these sources, the COVID-19 and hurricane threats are boosting the growth of sectors like thermal energy storage. The boost is so dramatic that it’s expected to continue to happen until at least 2026. According to IRENA, or the International Renewable Energy Agency, the savings here are as much as 1.4 million Gigawatt hours in areas like Europe.
They are also predicting a potential CO2 emission reduction of 400 million tons due to how sustainable thermal is.
Solar Thermal: A Growing Market
Solar power plants are on the rise just about everywhere. In particular, solar heat is an increasingly popular way to create energy in turbulent times. Solar power is a good option because it’s decentralized. Also, when you have solar power plants, you can easily store heat energy. This is true even in areas where there isn’t a lot of direct sunlight.
Fortunately, you don’t need a lot of direct sunlight for solar thermal to still be useful. All you need is for the targeted areas to receive enough heat.
Due to this interest, solar thermal devices have become more and more efficient at storing energy. As a result, their commercial value is increasing rapidly. However, they’re still facing a familiar problem: costs are still too high to make related ventures profitable.
COVID-19 and Thermal Energy Storage
However, COVID-19 may be helping with this. There’s nothing quite like a pandemic to motivate people to find alternate modes of power as the old ones starting to look less practical and far too centralized.
With just a bit more research, thermal energy storage from solar power plants will become more and more viable. At that point, more and more of the world (and the United States, more specifically) will see how useful it is to have means of energy generation that comes right from somewhere nearby. It is a source of power that reduces overall pollution to the environment. It also won’t incur enormous transportation costs just to get it from where it’s generated to where you are.
Remember, those problems are just pre-COVID-19 problems. Add unstable demand for a centralized power system right inside of a situation where hurricanes, climate concerns, and a pandemic are piling up, and you have a recipe for trouble.
Positive Energy Effects Following COVID-19
There have been other ramifications of COVID-19 than you might think when it comes to the climate debate. For one thing, lockdowns have led to reduced activity in terms of pollution that clogs the air.
The tendency for people to work at home and use less energy has made the air cleaner. On top of that, the current situation has made it easier for companies to perform audits on which of their energy systems are the most inefficient due to leaks and other potential problems. A current reduction in the use of commercial buildings has also made it easier for companies to justify changing how they allocate energy resources. They can even change what kinds of energy they decide to use.
For example, many are switching to other, greener options — like geothermal or solar.
Large Plans for the Post-COVID-19 World of Energy
The E.U. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recently spoke about the importance of moving forward and preparing for a post-COVID-19 world, especially in terms of having greener energy. This included their focus on 2020 emissions reductions.
Summing Up Changing Energy Demand During COVID-19
COVID-19 is making energy demand a bit unpredictable. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the future of energy after COVID-19 needs to be negative. In fact, there are plenty of opportunities arising out of the mess.
For example, many people are more familiar with photovoltaic cells that convert solar light into electricity. But fewer have a full understanding of how solar and other kinds of thermal power sources can be just as efficient and useful. That’s changing as more companies explore thermal energy. There’s also an increasing partnership in the U.S. and beyond arising out of the difficulties presented by COVID-19.
Reduced human movement and presence in the world during full or partial lockdowns help to demonstrate to everyone that a sustainable future is possible. However this in my opinion is short-sighted. While carbon emissions have been reduced due to the lack of movement, so has the world’s economy. We must understand this delicate balance.