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Demand For Energy Is Down Due To COVID-19, Utilities Rely More On Renewables

Because some businesses have shut down due to COVID-19, states in the central part of the country are using less energy. That likely means cleaner air from utilities. 

J.T. Smith is the director of operations planning at the Midcontinent Independent System Operator or MISO. It helps utilities deliver electricity across central U.S. states and maintains reliability on the grid.

He says because of “Stay-At-Home” orders, the region’s weekly energy use is ten percent less than usual this time of year. Smith says large energy users like retail businesses and industrial companies have either shut down or reduced hours.

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He says while energy use used to peak at around 8 a.m., we're now seeing that peak shift to later in the morning, like 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Smith says nighttime peaks have also gone down somewhat.

“Less people were going out to eat, shopping. Folks were going home and staying home,” he says.

Smith says due to lower demand, coal plants may choose to run for fewer hours. That means less air pollution.

In a statement from Duke Energy, the company said it was decreasing the amount of time its coal plants are running.

"Anytime we see changes in load, we rely on the flexibility of our generation system and take advantage of our balanced fuel mix (nuclear, hydro, natural gas, solar, coal). We dispatch our fleet on economics so generally we’re now running our coal plants less due to low natural gas prices and less load,” it said in a statement.

Smith says many coal plants are shutting off for yearly maintenance — so utilities are relying more on cleaner sources of energy like wind and solar.

“It makes them more important because they are there and they are serving a key component in the energy delivery right now,” Smith says.

Smith says it’s hard to say what effect “Stay-At-Home” orders will have on energy costs for Indiana residents. But he says if you are working from home, you might be using more heat or electricity than normal — and that will be reflected in your bill.

Contact Rebecca at rthiele@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Indiana Environmental reporting is supported by the Environmental Resilience Institute, an Indiana University Grand Challenge project developing Indiana-specific projections and informed responses to problems of environmental change.

This is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. However, we recommend checking the websites of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the Indiana State Department of Health for the most recent numbers of COVID-19 cases.