What is the impact of Covid-19 on the power sector?

Ilaria Grasso Macola 17 March 2020 (Last Updated March 17th, 2020 16:34)

The Covid-19 coronavirus was first identified in China’s Hubei province in December 2019 and has since become a global health threat, impacting 140 countries and triggering the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare it a global pandemic.

What is the impact of Covid-19 on the power sector?
Covid-19 has been declared a pandemic by the WHO. Credit: NIAID.

The Covid-19 coronavirus was first identified in China’s Hubei province in December 2019 and has since become a global health threat, impacting 140 countries and triggering the World Health Organisation (WHO) to declare it a global pandemic.

The power industry is among the sectors affected. Power Technology spoke to major stakeholders about Covid-19’s impact on generation and supply.

According to energy industry body Independent Commodity Intelligence Services, nuclear power availability in the EU is expected to remain consistent as many countries, including the UK and Germany, have put in place safety measures to guarantee the continuation of operations.

Digital energy solutions provider Lumenaza’s CEO Christian Chudoba told Power Technology: “The German energy industry is coping well, but we see a decline in industrial production.

“This doesn’t affect Lumenaza per se or other companies providing digital energy solutions. We are already used to working remotely, and we keep on developing new solutions.”

French grid operator RTE expects nuclear availability to stay 3.6GW below the 2015 to 2019 average as well predicting a national drop in nuclear demand. These are symptoms of a bigger problem Covid-19 presents to the nuclear sector, said energy and nuclear policy independent analyst Mycle Schneider.

Schneider said: “Covid-19 constitutes an unprecedented threat on sensitive strategic infrastructure, above all the power sector. The largest nuclear operator in the world, French state controlled EDF, announce as early as 10 March 2020 that three of its employees at nuclear facilities had tested positive.

“The French case shed light on a fundamental societal safety and security issue that got little attention in the current Covid-19 crisis. Operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants draw on a small group of highly specialised technicians and engineers.

“The unparalleled dependence on nuclear power in France—70.6% of electricity production in 2019—makes its power supply system extremely vulnerable to a general public health crisis like the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Other sources, including the Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), believe that the nuclear industry will be fundamental to minimising the pandemic’s effects on energy supply.

An NEI spokesperson said: “We know that nuclear power plant operations and the availability of electric service will be tremendously important in minimising the impact of the situation on the general public. We are confident that, based on extensive planning, the industry will continue to operate nuclear plants safely as this event unfolds.”

In the renewable energy sector, major concerns revolve around global supply chains, which are considerably slowing down production. Sectors such as the global wind industry said they are already seeing logistical delays.

Wind Europe CEO Giles Dickson said: “With Covid-19 we are likely to see delays in the development of new wind farm projects which could cause developers to miss the deployment deadlines in countries’ auction systems and face financial penalties.

“Governments should be flexible on how they apply their rules. And if ongoing auctions are undersubscribed because developers can’t bid in time, governments should award what they can and auction the non-awarded volumes at a later stage.”

Delays in projects development are also a matter of concern for the solar power industry, especially as solar panel shipment have stopped coming from China.

A SolarPower Europe spokesperson told Power Technology: “This situation has highlighted the need to have local manufacturing facilities along the value chain in Europe to bolster security of supply, especially when taking into account the fact that solar is considered by experts to be the main European long-term power generation source.”

A Renewables Grid Initiative spokesperson added: “There are currently no solar panel shipments from China, which means that we have to deal with a delivery bottleneck and therefore the delay of many projects. We also see the similarities between the current health crisis and the climate crisis.

“Maybe we can learn from what we are currently going through and the consequences of acting too late. If that is the case, the current crisis might actually mean a boost for renewables in the medium term.”

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) believes that the pandemic, while threatening global supply chains in the power sector, will not be able to stop the industry from transitioning to net-zero CO2 emissions.

IRENA director-general Francesco La Camera said: “The outbreak of Covid-19 threatens global supply chains in many sectors and is therefore likely to have an impact on renewable energy. The severity and duration of both situations remain to be seen.

“What is critical to understand is that the long-term planning horizons involved, and the momentum that currently exists in energy transformation means neither low oil prices nor Covid-19 will interrupt or change our path towards decarbonisation of our societies and towards the achievement of the sustainable development goals.”