Covid-19 impact on electricity

Updated monthly
In this report

In light of the extraordinary impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown measures on the energy system, the IEA is publishing the most up-to-date possible electricity data. This report includes data through September, 2020. It will be updated on 13 November with data through the end of October.

Impact of lockdown measures

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, weather-corrected electricity demand stayed 10% and 5% respectively below the 2019 level for 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 restriction measures continue to curb electricity demand in September.

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 weather-corrected demand fell below 2019 levels, driven by significant declines in industrialized states.

In September 2020, weather-corrected electricity demand was 3.4% above the September 2019 average, and on a growing trend. This growth is driven by two factors: the recovery of electricity demand in the industrial and commercial sectors and a higher demand for irrigation compared to 2019, when an extended monsoon decreased the need for electricity in agriculture.

Year-on-year change in weekly electricity demand, weather corrected, in selected countries, 2020

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First lockdown measuresLockdown strengthenedLockdown softened
FranceMarch 14March 17May 11
GermanyMarch 15March 22April 20 and May 4
ItalyMarch 4March 13April 14 and May 4
SpainMarch 9March 15May 11
UKMarch 19March 23May 11 in England
IndiaMarch 18March 25May 4

Electricity demand in China dropped under lockdown in January, and more strongly in February (-13% compared to February 2019, leap year corrected). Part of the difference was also due to February being significantly colder in 2019 than in 2020 in China. Weather corrected, the decrease in demand in February 2020 compared to February 2019 was still significant: -11%.

As confinement measures were eased, electricity demand showed the first signs of recovery. From June 2020, electricity demand in China recovered completely and was even higher than last year’s levels. Less weather correction was necessary as the difference in temperatures was smaller between the two years. Weather corrected, the demand for electricity in August 2020 was 7% higher than a year before.

Year-on-year change in monthly electricity demand in China, 2020

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Changes in electricity mix

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.

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 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 in demand was satisfied by increasing coal and higher wind generation. In September, significant temperature drop leads to a decrease of cooling demand, and total generation to lower levels than in 2019, especially affecting coal power production.

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% since then, which is aligned with India's long-term ambitions to increase the share of non-fossil based electricity.

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, electricity demand was higher year on year. Compared to the previous month, low availability of wind was compensated by coal.

With the progressive release of lockdown measures in China 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 growing capacities and heavy rains, the share of renewables increased further. In August, the generation mix follows the usual seasonal pattern, with decreasing renewables and growing coal generation.

In the European Union, the fall in electricity demand and higher renewable production has driven non-renewable generation down. In fact, from February to the first week of July, weekly renewable production has been higher than fossil fuel generation; this situation reversed in July as a result of generally lower wind production.

Nuclear production has remained much lower than 2019 as several units have had to extend outages due to the delays caused by the lockdowns. By contrast, 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 largest source of electricity generation, behind renewables. While coal generation has decreased compared to 2019, it has started to increase output in recent weeks. Since the last week of July power demand, and therefore total generation levels, has been on par with 2019.

Electricity mix in the United States, January-September 2020

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Electricity mix in India, January-September 2020

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Electricity mix in the European Union, January-September 2020

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Electricity mix in China, January-August 2020

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Variable renewables in Europe

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. Although solar and wind generation in Europe are usually not correlated, high maximum variable renewables shares in some weeks have been driven by strong wind output during the day coinciding with solar generation.

With summer ending, the seasonal shift from solar to wind can be observed in several countries.

VRE share in electricity demand in Germany, January-September 2020

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VRE share in electricity demand in France, January-September 2020

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VRE share in electricity demand in Spain, January-September 2020

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VRE share in electricity demand in Italy, January-September 2020

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