Electricity demand dropped to Sunday levels under lockdown, with dramatic reductions in services and industry only partially offset by higher residential use. When confinement was eased in Italy and Germany in April, electricity demand showed the first signs of recovering. This trend was confirmed in May, as more countries (India, France, Spain, Great Britain) softened lockdown measures. In June and July, the electricity demands, weather corrected, stayed 10% and 5% respectively below the 2019 level of the same month, in most countries except India, where the recovery was more pronounced. In August, the sustained recovery in electricity demand growth for EU countries brought them close to their 2019 levels, though some restrictions measures continue to curb electricity demand in September. In October electricity demand growth steadily recovered in European countries up to 2019 levels, before increasing restrictions were announced again.
In India, the recovery of electricity demand is confirmed with higher levels than in 2019 starting in early August, with the exception of the last two weeks of August when demand, weather corrected, fell below 2019 levels, driven by significant declines in industrialized states. In September 2020, electricity demand weather corrected was 3.4% above September 2019 in average, driven by higher demand in industrial and commercial sectors, as well as higher demand for irrigation compared to 2019. In October, the relaxing of restrictions and a stronger economic environment led to electricity demand (weather corrected) more than 10% above October 2019 levels, in line with precovid19 trends.
Across all major regions, the power mix has shifted towards renewables following lockdown measures due to depressed electricity demand, low operating costs and priority access to the grid through regulations. Electricity demand and mix go back to previous trends with lockdown releases.
In the United States, natural gas has remained the leading source of electricity from March onwards, while renewables far outpaced the contribution of coal-fired power plants as the first measures of confinement were put in place and demand decreased. In June, as stringency of government response softened, natural gas consolidated its leading position. In July and August, coal and nuclear peaked up to respond to growing demand. They outpaced renewables generation, which decreased in the wake of the seasonal decline of wind and hydro. In August, the total electricity generation was much higher than in 2019 at the same period, as temperatures were higher, and this increase of demand was satisfied by increasing coal and higher wind generation. In September, significant temperature drop lead to a decrease of cooling demand, and total generation to lower levels than in 2019, especially affecting coal power production. In October, total generation levels are on par with 2019, and the electricity mix trends (increase of wind, decrease of natural gas) are seasonal.
In India, the gap between coal and renewables significantly narrowed after the first lockdown measures were taken. The share of coal in the electricity mix has consistently stayed under 70% through September. Since late May, levels of electricity demand have recovered while the share of renewables in the mix reflects their seasonal availability. Starting late July 2020, electricity generation was higher than in 2019 for the first time since the beginning of lockdown, maintaining this trend for four consecutive weeks. However, in the last two weeks of August, the trend inverted with lower generation levels than those observed in 2019, driven by lower demand. During the month of August, the share of renewables rose again above 30%, driven by strong wind and hydro generation. In September and October, electricity demand was back on its growing path before covid19 and generation mix is comparable to 2019, reflecting seasonal trends.
In China under confinement, as electricity demand decreased, a large reduction of coal-fired power generation occurred. With progressive release of lockdown measures starting in the second half of March, the coal share recovered slightly, while renewables maintained a high share in the mix. In June and July, with growing hydro electricity generation in the Chinese mix due to new capacities and heavy rains, the share of renewables increased further. In August and September, the trends of coal and renewables generation adapted to the availability of hydro.
Renewables still hold a stronger share in the electricity mix than just prior to covid19 pandemic, but in many regions this is now mainly due to seasonal effects
In the EU, the fall in electricity demand and higher renewable production has driven non-renewable generation down. From February to the first week of July, weekly renewable production has been higher than fossil fuel generation; it has reversed in July because of generally lower wind production.
Natural gas generation has increased in the power mix supported by low gas prices and higher carbon prices; in mid-June, it became the second source of electricity generation, behind renewables, to compensate the decrease in production from other energy sources. Nuclear generation was historically low from January to August 2020, as several units extended outages due to the delays caused by the lockdowns. During the same period, coal power output was also lower, to meet both lower demand levels and phasing out targets in most of the EU. Since early September, nuclear power output is rising towards seasonal averages while coal production levels have increased and are equivalent to 2019 levels. Due to strong wind conditions in late September and throughout October, renewable production rose. Higher renewable and nuclear productions have pushed demand for natural gas in the electricity mix down. In late October, the share of natural gas in the electricity mix was as low as during lockdown and on par with coal.
The share of variable renewables in the electricity mix depends on many factors: wind and solar parks in operation, weather conditions, and total demand. In several EU countries, in particular Italy, Spain and Germany, new records were reached during the lockdown period. The share of variable renewables remained high as lockdown measures were softened.
Throughout summer several factors affected the variable renewables share, such as demand patterns related to economic activity and residential cooling, higher solar infeed and lower wind production. With winter approaching, the seasonal shift from solar to wind can be observed in several countries.