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COVID-19-related load impacts are being reported by several US grid operators


MISO's March peak month to date down 18% compared to year ago

New York City load trending significantly below 5-year average

New York — US power system impacts from the coronavirus pandemic are beginning to emerge, with shifting load patterns, significant load declines in a number of areas and projections that mild weather and business shutdowns will continue to suppress load over the coming weeks. However, some regions have seen little or no impact, and there have been no reported US grid reliability issues so far.

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The Midcontinent Independent System Operator has observed some load reductions. While load is weather dependent, MISO's peak for March month to date is down 18% compared to March 2019 and down 13% month to date compared to the March average since 2014, spokeswoman Allison Bermudez, said in an email.

"We believe this is attributed to a combination of both the milder weather and the pandemic-related closures and adjusted operating hours of non-critical businesses," Bermudez said. MISO operators are also experiencing a smoother morning ramp as people work from home.

"We expect the peak hour of the day could shift forward an hour to between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.," she said.

New York City power demand is starting to show COVID-19 impacts. New York state has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the nation, with 20,875 reported by Governor Andrew Cuomo's office Monday morning.

"New York City loads have been weaker year-over-year this winter so far due to milder weather (as seen through February), but now they are trending significantly below the recent 5-year average, thus indicating the slowdown," Manan Ahuja, manager of North America power at S&P Global Platts Analytics, said Monday.

"I suspect this is just the beginning, and these demand numbers could slow down even further as we move through the work week," Ahuja said.

It is also noticeable that most of these load declines are during the day-time hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during weekdays, he said.

The New York Independent System Operator said it had not yet observed major state-wide changes to peak demand despite the declines in the city. "We are not currently seeing a significant decrease in daily peak demand, but we are observing shifts in energy usage patterns throughout the state compared to prior weeks," NYISO spokesman Zach Hutchins said in an email.

Similar reports were coming out of New England where social distancing and shuttered businesses are beginning to show up in the data.

With residents and businesses across New England changing their behavior in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ISO-NE is seeing a decline in system demand of approximately 3% to 5%, compared to what would normally be expected under weather conditions in the region, spokesman Matt Kakley said.

"Our forecasters are seeing load patterns that resemble those of snow days, when schools are closed and many are home during the day," he said.

PJM Interconnection's observations from March 17–19 show the morning peak arriving one to two hours later than forecast models typically predict – shifting from about 8 a.m. to 9–10 a.m., with the evening peak roughly 5% lower than expected, the grid operator said in a statement.

The load curve also is flatter, without the same fluctuations usually shown by morning and evening peaks and valleys.


In the US Southwest, COVID-19 impacts are not yet significantly showing up in the data.

"We are monitoring any changes to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, however, because school and business closures have recently begun and continue to evolve, it is too early to determine COVID-19's impact on electric load patterns," ERCOT spokeswoman Leslie Sopko said.

The Southwest Power Pool expects that as the coronavirus continues to spread across the nation, RTOs could see new and evolving patterns of energy use, which can make forecasting a challenge.

"To date, though, SPP has not seen a discernible difference in load within our footprint. As we move forward, we stand ready to adapt to changes in energy usage during a pandemic," spokeswoman Meghan Sever said.

"SPP continues to closely monitor the situation as it develops, and we are confident in our ability to reliably manage the operation of the bulk electric system," she added.

Given California's broad geographic area and wide-ranging weather, a mixture of impacts is being observed.

"Colder than average temperatures and weather systems moving through are adding to the challenges of isolating the effects of the coronavirus on consumption," said Anne Gonzales, spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator.

Since shelter-in-place policies have started rolling out, there's been a mix of cloud cover and partly sunny days across the state. The alternating sunshine and cloud cover affects rooftop solar production, which makes forecasting load more challenging, she said.

"In the areas currently under shelter-in-place directives and orders, we are seeing reduction in load, especially in those that are heavily residential. Inland areas with more industrial activity are not seeing the level of load reduction, but they are also not in shelter-in-place areas," Gonzales said.

While the ISO is seeing lower consumption needs, it is still analyzing how much of a reduction there is and running models to isolate for shelter-in-place behavior.

"Once we get several days of shelter-in-place, and one weekend under our belt, we will be able to see more defined patterns in the behavioral changes that are occurring effecting energy consumption," she said.

"We are collaborating and sharing information with other ISOs and RTOs across the US, and globally, including Italy and France, to get perspective from other grids that are dealing with impacts of the COVID-19 virus," Gonzales said.