Curtailed economic activity amid COVID-19 restrictions has resulted in a significant decline in retail sales of electricity to the nation’s manufacturers, according to federal energy officials.
In its Nov. 10 Short-Term Energy Outlook, the Energy Information Administration predicts an 8.8% drop in retail sales to the industrial sector for 2020. That’s a much steeper decrease than the 5.6% fall EIA projected in October.
Energy supply and demand “remains subject to heightened levels of uncertainty because responses to COVID-19 continue to evolve,” according to the STEO. “Reduced economic activity related to the COVID-19 pandemic has caused changes in energy demand and supply patterns in 2020 and will continue to affect these patterns in the future.”
The STEO said electricity use overall will decrease by 3.6% in the United States in 2020. In addition to lower retail sales to the industrial sector, sales to the commercial sector are expected to decrease by 6.4%, compared to last month’s projection of 6.2%.
The residential sector is the only major electric sales sector expected to experience growth, driven by more people staying at home during the pandemic. The STEO projects a 2.5% increase, slightly lower than the 3% projected last month. In 2021, residential sales are expected to grow by 0.9%.
Renewable energy continues to be the fastest-growing source of electricity generation in 2020, the report said. About 23 gigawatts of new wind capacity will come online in 2020 and 7.9 GW in 2021. Utility-scale solar capacity is expected to rise by 12.8 GW in 2020 and 13.0 GW in 2021.
Another recent EIA report, Today in Energy, stated 2020 could be a record year for wind turbine installations, far surpassing the previous record of 13.2 GW added in 2012.
The Nov. 12 report said most of that additional wind capacity, 18.5 GW, will come online between September and December based on project timelines reported to EIA by power plant owners and developers.
The STEO also noted dramatic declines in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. After decreasing by 2.6% in 2019 over the previous year, CO2 emissions are expected to drop by 10% in 2020 as a result of reduced consumption of all fossil fuels, according to the report.
This decline in emissions is the result of “slowing economic growth in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report said. “In 2021, EIA forecasts that energy-related CO2 emissions will increase by 6% from the 2020 level as the economy recovers and energy use increases.”