Coronavirus and the energy sector

Professor Phil Hart, Director of Energy and Power at Cranfield University
Professor Phil Hart, Director of Energy and Power at Cranfield University

Can the grid cope if everyone starts working from home and schools shut?

“The grid should have no challenges meeting the needs of remote working or school closure. Our power transmission and distribution systems are extremely robust and over recent years energy efficiency measures means our overall power consumption as a country has reduced.

“Wholesale relocation of computers and additional household loads due to people being there have an extremely small chance of upsetting the grid systems in any way. Offices closing offer the opportunity to reduce overall loading significantly, if things like air conditioning are turned off/down, and/or lighting and ancillary systems are turned off.

“Avoidance and reduction of these electrical loads coupled with reduced fuel use for commuting should have a positive impact on the environment with no meaningful negative impacts on our national electrical infrastructure.”

Is there a risk to power supply at all?

“The risk to power supply is very minimal, unless all the work force in our power stations are off sick or basic fuel supply is interrupted. We obviously have maintenance regimes which have to be kept up at all of our power stations. If those are not met then there is a risk that some may have to be withdrawn from service if the crisis goes on for a long time.

“The advent and scale of renewables in our supply system is helpful here as the size of renewable plants is generally much smaller, and the national power system will be better able to handle withdrawal of multiple smaller sites. I feel sure that major producers such as DRAX have contingency plans in place to ensure maintenance of their base load plant is kept up to date, so the overall risk of any issues with power supply is really quite

small currently.

“We’ll need to keep an eye on the international gas and biomass supply chains over coming weeks to see if there are any interruptions, but certainly for oil and gas the pricing wars currently underway seem to indicate a glut of supply not an interruption is most likely short term.”

Are smaller power supply companies at risk?

“Electrical power is a staple of modern life, almost as basic to how we behave as water and food. Whilst there may be variations in daily use profile, changes in power flows through the grid (more distributed than centralised towards big buildings), or modest reductions in power use potentially, none of these should be meaningful to the overall commercial supply and demand outcome.

“The only exception to this is if we see major users like industrial, manufacturing or chemical works shutting down, reducing the demand significantly. We’re a long way off that but it might happen as if the economy grinds to a halt and production of goods slows / closes down – that could hurt some generating companies’ profits short term. In an ever changing picture, this might be worth keeping an eye on over coming weeks.”