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Energy Cast Podcast: Tips for dealing with a pandemic

Work from Home

Energy Cast is a podcast featuring some of the top experts across all links in the energy industry chain, including hydropower, renewables, generation and more! Jay Dauenhauer created the show and has been hosting Energy Cast for several years.

Hurricanes, storms, blackouts. These are typical challenges for electric utilities.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis for the public, it’s not necessarily a crisis for utilities. This industry — like telecoms, streamers and food delivery services — are on the happy side of the ledger, in my opinion.

The Power and Energy Society at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has published a 50-page white paper on lessons learned from the first months of the COVID-19 quarantine. My guest, Aleksi Paaso, was lead author on the paper. He and his contributors spent about four weeks developing the paper.

The three main takeaways are:

  1. Utilities have suffered no major issues with reliability
  2. Utilities need to make preparations for disruptions in the supply chain
  3. During the pandemic, utilities need to prepare for weather events

Click below to listen to the full episode:

What I found most interesting were the ways the pandemic has affected the demand curve for energy:

  • Flatter and lower than normal
  • Residential demand remains steady during the day and has a higher peak than normal at night
  • Reduced demand overall means a greater share of renewable (i.e. solar) energy on the grid, meaning greater “ramping” of conventional energy generation like natural gas is needed as solar drops off and demand rises more dramatically

In addition, with natural gas at historic lows, many utilities are relying more on gas-fired assets.

Paaso says we could see a swifter move towards vehicle electrification, for instance. “Regions have seen reductions in emissions and would like to maintain that,” he says.

I was curious how the authors felt the demand curve would be affected once businesses return to work.

“A lot of the commercial load is away for the time, but think about a case where you open offices at the same time while you still have still have a large population working from home,” says Paaso. “That also might cause some interesting shifts to the load patterns.”

We also discussed the financial impacts on utilities. For one, many utilities have halted debt collections. “All of the utilities are committed to helping their region recover from this epic challenge,” says Paaso.

While the virus is not a threat to electrical infrastructure, the key is keeping the world’s utility personnel safe.

“This pandemic could be much more severe if it was combined with electric service being impacted,” he says. “Certainly the utilities have a major part to play to keep those parts of society running that are running full steam during the pandemic — hospitals and now homes as they are the primary locations for businesses.”

IEEE’s Power and Energy Society also plans to explore longer-term impacts of the pandemic, as well as how regions and utilities return to normal. Like the paper, which was a collaboration across countries without the benefit of meeting face-to-face, utilities may also find remote work beneficial long-term.

“I think we’ve learned a lot about working from home and how we can do this effectively between different teams,” he says. (This podcast originally aired in May 2020.)


Energy Cast Podcast is hosted biweekly by Jay Dauenhauer.

Learn more about the podcast here.

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