Economic slowdowns and stay-at-home orders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic have caused dramatic changes across all aspects of the U.S. electricity industry, particularly in the commercial sector, according to federal energy officials.
Energy Information Administration report forecasts that retail sales of electricity in the commercial sector will fall by 4.7% in 2020 because of widespread business closures. Similarly, retail sales in the industrial sector will shrink by 4.2% this year, as many factories reduce production.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant changes in energy fuel supply and demand patterns,” particularly in drastically lower crude oil prices, said the EIA’s most recent Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO).
“Similar uncertainties persist across EIA’s outlook for other energy sources, including natural gas and electricity,” the April 7 report said.
Forecasts of U.S. sales of electricity to the residential sector will dip slightly, by 0.8% in 2020, despite more people teleworking and engaging in distance learning at home. That’s mainly because demand was already going down due to warmer weather.
“Reduced power usage resulting from milder winter and summer weather is offset by increased household electricity consumption,” according to the EIA.
Lower demand will also mean reduced production at the nation’s power plants in 2020. EIA forecasts a decline of 3% in power generation and an even steeper decline of 20% at coal-fired plants. Forecasts of natural gas generation call for a slight 1% increase this year, reflecting “favorable fuel costs and the addition of new generating capacity.”
COVID-19 also affects the federal forecast of new renewable projects coming online. The electric power sector will add 19.4 gigawatts of new wind capacity and 12.6 GW of utility-scale solar capacity in 2020, the EIA said.
“These annual wind and solar capacity additions are 5% and 10% lower, respectively, than expected in the previous STEO,” the report said.
For motorists longing for a change of scenery after being cooped up in the house all spring, the EIA has good news. On average, a gallon of regular gasoline will cost $1.58, compared to $2.72 last summer. For all of 2020, EIA expects U.S. regular gasoline retail prices to average $1.86 a gallon and $1.97 a gallon for all grades.
“The lower forecast gasoline prices reflect lower forecast crude oil prices and significantly lower gasoline demand in the second quarter of 2020 driven by COVID-19 travel restrictions and disruptions to domestic economic activity,” the report said.
coronavirus resources for co-ops, including guidance on business continuity planning and communication as well as event schedule changes.