Earth Day 2020: how lockdown changed the way we use energy
The world has changed. In so many ways. It’s impossible to talk about Earth Day this year without noting how much has happened, in such a short space of time.
So, we’ve decided to examine the huge impact lockdown is having on our energy use: when and where we’re using it, how much we’re consuming and what this means for our planet…
Energy use has risen at home, but fallen overall in the UK
In most homes, we’re seeing people use about 6% more electricity than normal. Which isn’t surprising with so many of us staying in at the moment. But, there’s actually been a big drop in the country’s energy use overall.
Usually, the UK uses much more electricity in the week. On Saturdays and Sundays, demand is about 10-20% lower - depending on the time of year. Now, with so many places of work closed, demand from Monday to Friday has dropped to weekend levels.
Cafes, restaurants, schools and workplaces are all shut - which plays a part in this dip. But the biggest factor is large-scale industries being closed, such as factories1.
To give you a sense of scale, the last time electricity use fell this low in the month of March was way back in 1975. And, in April, it could drop to levels last seen in the 1960s2. A phenomenal change for modern times.
At home: how we used energy before lockdown
Before lockdown hit, on a regular workday, you’d expect to see peaks in home energy use at certain times. The first would be in the morning: most of us wake up, make breakfast and go to work.
The second, larger peak is when people arrive home in the evening. We cook dinner, watch TV, take baths and turn on the heating.
While everyone’s home at the weekend, household demand for electricity is higher - by about 20%. And although it doesn’t have a morning peak (since we don’t all get up at the same time) the evening peak still happens.
To see how lockdown has affected all this, we decided to take a closer look. After analysing anonymised smart meter data from around 230,000 OVO members that we looked at, we can share what we discovered…
How we’re using energy in our homes now
What we’re seeing under lockdown is that weekday demand is starting to mirror patterns we used to only see at the weekend.
The morning peak on weekdays has come down. This is probably because people are following less structured routines - many of us are either working from home or not working right now. This spreads out the times we use energy.
In the middle of the day, households are using almost a third more electricity - with people staying home when they’d usually be at work.
Then at the weekend, demand isn’t much higher than it’d normally be. We’re only using a bit more energy, as people stay home instead of going out.
Energy use for the week starting 30th March 2020, compared to the week starting 9th March 2020 (prior to UK lock down measures being introduced).
And what about gas?
We also looked into how we’re using gas at home during lockdown, to see if this has changed too. But, since we’re heading into summer and most people aren’t firing up their central heating (the biggest use of gas in homes), we haven’t noticed any evidence showing demand has gone up. We’ll carry on checking though, and we’ll update this blog if we do spot any changes.
Under lockdown, more electricity is coming from renewables
Even though household energy use has increased, overall energy demand is still down. This means that the UK doesn’t need to turn to nasty carbon-based fossil fuels, which it does when demand is high. We’re able to rely more and more on renewables to help power the country.
In fact, because it’s been windy and sunny recently, renewables have been giving the nation most of its electricity. In the first week of April, 50% of the UK’s electricity came from wind alone.
What this all means for planet earth
Under the worst circumstances, for the first time we’re seeing how cutting energy use could help us move towards climate change goals that end reliance on carbon-based fuels. In the future, we’ll have to find practical ways to do this, which work around our daily lives.
One thing’s certain: beyond this crisis, we’ll continue to champion renewable energy sources for the good of our planet. That will help us release less carbon into the atmosphere - helping to slow global warming.
Not sure how carbon contributes to global warming? Our video explains why carbon emissions are bad:
If you want to help the planet while you’re at home this Earth Day and beyond, fighting energy waste is a great way to do this. You can read our tips for saving energy (and carbon) during the coronavirus crisis here.
If you’re struggling due to the effects of coronavirus, please click here to see the support available from OVO.