Millions of people across the Northeast are staying home; daily routines and patterns of behaviour have changed significantly. This is having a measurable impact on power demand. Our power market experts at Genscape, who specialise in near-term power price demand forecasting, have been tracking the daily movements and impacts of coronavirus. On March 31, 2020, we invited customers to a live Q&A session to help them understand how measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus are changing power demand in America’s Northeast.
If you've got 35 minutes to spare, watch the webinar.
If you've got just five minutes, get the answers to the three most commonly asked questions below.
Q&A: Implications from the Coronavirus in US Northeast Power Markets
Replay the webinar for more questions and answers questions about the impact of coronavirus on power demand.
1. How have demand patterns changed since stay-at-home measures were enforced in New York and New England?
First, a brief primer on normal demand patterns at this time of year. In a typical spring, both New York and New England see a demand ramp between 5am and 8am. The peak takes place between 7am and 8am on clear sunny days, and somewhere between 8am and 11am on overcast days. The evening demand ramp takes place between 6pm and 8pm.
However, with these Covid-19 measures in place, we have seen a shift in the timing of the residential demand patterns across the region. Many people are working and schooling from home, or on a more sombre note, simply not working at all. This means the vast majority of the population wake up later in the day, and start their evening routine earlier in the day.
With a later start to morning routines, we’re seeing a softening of the morning demand ramp in both New York and New England to a significant extent. On really clear, sunny days, demand now peaks between 8am and 9am in New York. In New England, because of the wealth of rooftop solar generation, also known as behind-the-meter (BTM) generation, it has retained a peak between 7am and 8am on the clearest days.
However, with lots of clouds, rain and even snow in the past two weeks, we haven’t seen a lot of BTM generation. On days of unsettled weather, the morning demand peak becomes a mid-day demand peak, typically occurring between 10am and 12pm, and sometimes as late as 1pm.
Weather plays a significant role in the afternoon, too. On the few clear, sunny and mild days we have had, demand carves out an even deeper trough than historical weather days would suggest. Just last week, New England was able to dip below the 10-gigawatt mark during the midday hours, which is notable considering we would normally expect demand to touch a minimum of around 10.7 or 10.8 at this time of year, and that’s without the impact of Covid-19. However, we've seen a lot of cloudy days and a lot of rain, which has led to elevated demand in the afternoons.
Heading into the evening, demand patterns have been reminiscent of what we'd expect to see on a snowstorm day, when kids and adults are stuck at home and commuting is greatly reduced. With everybody already home, evening routines start earlier, and that has led to more spaced-out energy consumption during the evening. Instead of that being focused between 6pm and 8pm, it starts as early as 4pm or 5pm. The result is a softer ramp and a subdued peak.
2. What’s the impact on scheduled power outages?
There's a lot of uncertainty regarding maintenance outages this spring. The main concern is the status of nuclear refuels, for two reasons. First, refuels require a large number of contract workers from across the country. Second, an unusually high percentage of units have outages scheduled for this spring. Therefore, the question becomes: how many of these schedule outages might be postponed to prevent the spread of the virus amongst workers?
In Canada, New Brunswick Power did postpone the annual refuel outage of their nuclear plant, Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station. This is an extreme but notable example of disruption to scheduled maintenance.
Elsewhere, nuclear outages have gone largely as planned across the US, in line with recommendations by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which has also published additional safety procedures and guidelines to allow maintenance to continue safely. The main concern now is staffing; plants will have to shut down if they can't meet minimum staffing levels. Plant operators may have to postpone outages or extend the duration of outages as a result of staffing shortages. The NRC has allowed plants to postpone non-essential maintenance, so that reduced workforces can focus on core tasks.
Listen to the webinar below for more information on the impact of coronavirus on maintenance and outages across New England.
3. What’s the impact on gas demand?
First, we must separate the impacts of a warmer-than-average winter from the impacts of coronavirus.
We start by looking at the average weighted heating degree day (HDD) for New England in March.
Heating degree days measure how low the temperature was on a given day or during a period of days. The higher the HDD, the lower the temperature. Visit the U.S. Energy Information Administration website to learn more about how we calculate heating degree days.
In March this year, it averaged about 22 HDD. In March 2019, we saw an average of about 28.7. In 2018, it was about 27.9. So we're about six degrees warmer year over year.
Taking that into account, gas demand in March 2020 falls far short of expectations, largely as a result of weakening commercial demand.
In 2019, we saw about 54,000 MMBTU demand per degree. In March 2020, we've actually seen only about 42,000 MMBTU per degree. That's a significant reduction year over year of about 12,000 MMBTU. Looking at only the last seven days, we've actually been well below even the regression line for this month, compounding demand weakness even further.
What can we expect as we move into April?
In the next couple of weeks, as temperatures rise, we’re exiting heating demand season. In mid-April, we’ll also start to see the impact of earlier sunrise times, dampening the strength of morning power demand. This supports a continued downward trend in demand levels over the next two to three weeks at least.
Listen the webinar to learn more about our April forecasts.
Meet the team
- Casey Kopp, Regional Director, NYISO and ISONE
- Maggie Cashman, Power Market Analyst II, ISONE
- Anthony Abousleiman, Power Market Analyst, NYISO
- Julien Vandal, Power Market Analyst II, ISONE
- Zach Szumloz, Meteorologist and Demand Forecaster
- Matt Sindler. Power Market Analyst, NYISO
Wood Mackenzie's Genscape team delivers real-time and historical data, forecasts, analytical insight, tools, and software solutions leveraging a combination of unique data collection techniques, data science, and a team of experienced energy market analysts. Find more of their work at www.genscape.com.