Energy use has changed dramatically since the onset of COVID-19. Office buildings have sat vacant and residents have been sequestered at home for months. The ANB Systems summary of the Covid-19 EIA Energy Consumption Forecast For 2020 estimates that electricity consumption will decrease 5.7% and daily average natural gas usage will decrease 3.6% compared to 2019.

Evaluators must now find the best approaches to account for energy usage and savings in 2020 and beyond.

The first step is to set a new energy-consumption baseline to compare program operations before and after the pandemic, and to forecast new energy goals down the road. By isolating activity before COVID-19 in the first quarter of 2020, comparing it to operations during the stay-at-home orders, and then measuring energy-consumption trends in the third and fourth quarters of 2020, you can segregate the effects of this stoppage on energy programs. To calculate a property’s baseline usage, use tools such as the US Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, which documents each building type’s energy usage.

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Evaluators must now find the best approaches to account for energy usage and savings in 2020 and beyond.

Use data from AMI

Utilities that use advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) or smart grids are well positioned to continue collecting data during the protracted COVID-19 crisis. These tools also allow evaluators to establish a more accurate energy baseline according to appliance or end use.

Figure 1 shows data collected by energy-monitoring software company Bidgely during the early days of the pandemic. Appearing in the POWERGRID International article How utilities are using AI to predict energy consumption during grid uncertainty, the graph illustrates how HVAC energy-consumption peaks shifted during the spring lockdown.

Figure 1: Average HVAC peak consumption during COVID-19 lockdown

During the March and April shelter-in-place mandate, residential customers turned on their HVAC equipment earlier in the day and ran it for longer periods. By April 21, these customers had shifted their peak usage from late afternoon to midday. The load profile for weekends was mostly unchanged, but usage was higher.
Chart from Bidgely showing average HVAC consumption throughout the day for different periods.

Adapt evaluation, measurement, and verification methodologies to the post-COVID-19 world

Evaluators will have to shift from in-person site visits and verification to virtual verifications, desk reviews of project files, and engineering analysis and simulations. One evaluator plans to take an approach similar to what they used after Hurricane Katrina in 2005:

  • Conduct a cumulative review of previous program years
  • Identify likely savings estimates and patterns
  • Calibrate the estimates to reflect the downturn in operations during the COVID-19 shutdown

Although COVID-19 is a global crisis, it’s not unlike the emergencies you handle all the time in your territory. During these situations, you suspend your energy-efficiency programs and switch your focus to service reliability. Evaluators can use data from standard emergency situations such as hurricanes and floods to extrapolate the energy impacts of COVID-19.

Some utilities have capitalized on the stay-at-home orders and shutdowns to find alternative methods for delivering energy efficiency. They now offer direct-mail kits, install efficiency measures in empty buildings, or perform virtual audits. Evaluators can determine the energy savings from such activities through online surveys, program database reviews, and statistical analyses to assess overall program effectiveness and project energy savings.

Contributing Authors

Staff Writer II

Liza Minor began working as a Staff Writer II on the Content Strategy and Production Team in the summer of 2020. Previously, she used E ...