What happens to the demand for electricity during a pandemic?
Apparently, a drop in demand, according to Hawaiian Electric, which reported a significant reduction in electricity use as tourism activities ceased and thousands of customers across its coverage area of Oahu, Maui County and Hawaii island stayed home to stop the spread of COVID-19.
On Oahu, the average system peak demand, or point of highest energy use for the week of March 22 was 7% less than in previous weeks. On Maui, demand dropped 14% and on Hawaii island, 7%.
Hawaiian Electric said the reduction in weekday, daytime peak demand on Maui and Oahu was especially pronounced as schools, offices, government buildings, hotels and businesses closed.
Peak daytime demand fell 21% on Maui and 16% on Oahu during the week that Gov. David Ige issued a stay-at-home order statewide on March 23, and soon after, imposed a mandatory, 14-day quarantine for all passengers arriving to Hawaii.
On Maui, there were record lows for daytime generation on sunny days, when private rooftop solar systems were supplying the most energy.
“Such fast and pronounced changes in demand are something we haven’t seen before and they’re a measure of how quickly business activity and individual behavior were affected by the pandemic,” said Jim Kelly, vice president of corporate relations, in a news release. “Hawaii reflects the trends that utilities everywhere are seeing as economies adjust to the impacts of COVID-19.”
Kelly said customers should not have to worry about an adequate supply of electricity for the duration of the emergency.
“Especially with consumption down, we have plenty of generation resources available,” he said.
While peak demand from households used to be from 5 to 9 p.m., when everyone got home from work, and hotel guests returned to their rooms, those patterns have evened out throughout the day, according to Hawaiian Electric spokesman Peter Rosegg.
More home air-conditioners may go on during the summer when temperatures rise, but Hawaiian Electric should be in good shape for those warmer months, he said.
“The good news is we have a substantial generation excess,” said Rosegg. “With this trend we are now in a very comfortable place in overall service. People are worried about a lot of things right now, but electric service is not one of them.”
Hawaiian Electric will continue to encourage residents at home to only use what they need, he said.
On Oahu, the reduction in demand means about 200,000 fewer gallons of oil per day are being used to generate electricity.
This is consistent with nationwide trends, according to data released this week by the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.
The institute found consumption of electricity across the U.S. is also down. In hard-hit areas like New York City, consumption has fallen 14% since February, and in southern California, about 10%
This, in turn, has resulted in a huge drop in particulate emissions worldwide.
Hawaiian Electric is still operational for generation, and staff continue to conduct emergency repairs and utility maintenance and construction.
Customer service information, payment processing, customer installations and rooftop solar application processing services are still available online, by phone or the U.S. Postal Service.
Customers who are having difficulty paying their bill due to the coronavirus pandemic are encouraged to contact the company to make a payment arrangement.
“We’re really urging people if they are having trouble, and if they can’t pay in full, to please contact us and let us know and see if we can make some kind of arrangement,” said Rosegg.
The quickest way to start the process is to submit a Payment Arrangement Request Form online. At this time, Hawaiian Electric is encouraging customers to go online rather than calling for service requests.