Impact of COVID-19 lockdown on energy networks examined in Newcastle research


NEWCASTLE University researchers are rolling out a project to study the impact of the UK Government’s lock down on energy networks.

The six-month project will look at the change in energy consumption for domestic, industrial and commercial use.

It aims to identify key challenges for the energy networks during the period of lockdown, closures of schools and businesses and the move to remote working from home.

Led by Dr Sara Walker and Professor Phil Taylor through Newcastle University’s Supergen Energy Networks Hub, the study will link up to the Urban Observatory COVID dashboard, to bring together all the data linked to energy usage so the team can understand the impact of significant home working on network operation.

Dr Walker, Reader in Energy in the School of Engineering, commented on the research: “In these uncertain times, certain critical infrastructures are vital, including the energy networks.

“In order for these networks to operate effectively it is important to understand how much energy is being used and when.

“In a normal day this is easy – we know when to expect the peak hours of the day, and of the year, for demand for gas and electricity.

“But this is an unprecedented situation and we find ourselves trying to predict the patterns of demand when there is no historical basis for this monumental shift in working and home life.

“We hope to look at network resilience, particularly for temporary facilities like the proposed Nightingale hospital at Harrogate, and to look at how networks might cope under stress events such as the August 9th blackout, under this new ‘normal’ of home working.”

Findings will be made available to the community through the COVID dashboard at Newcastle University.

It is currently populated with data on changes in transport and travel behaviour, using an extensive sensor network maintained by the Urban Observatory

Professor Taylor, Head of Engineering, added: “Energy networks are the backbone of our national energy system and they are designed and operated based upon assumptions about customer and organisational behaviour which have been analysed and modelled for decades.

“The current pandemic has profoundly changed these behaviours and energy consumption patterns.

“This research will work with Industry to understand these changes and interpret what they might mean for network resilience, overall carbon in the energy system and overall efficiency.

“There could be greater scope for participation in system balancing from customers who are at home by shifting their demand in time to match peaks in renewable energy.

“It is also worth noting that the increased use of digital technologies and the internet uses significant amounts of energy.

“Furthermore, it will be interesting to consider what the longer lasting effects on our energy networks might be if some of these practices stick even after lock down.”