COVID-19 Pandemic; Challenges and Opportunities in Power Systems
By Sahand Ghaseminejad Liasi, Abbas Shahbazian, Mohammad Tavakoli Bina
Unlike the pandemics of past centuries that caused deaths of millions of people, the COVID-19 pandemic has severely influenced different aspects of human activities. Power systems are nationally considered critical infrastructures in terms of both economical and security concerns. This paper discusses the impacts of COVID-19 on the technical and financial aspects of power systems. Furthermore, possible challenges and opportunities caused by the pandemic are discussed.
Keywords— Pandemic, COVID-19, energy consumption, carbon emission, peak demand.
While the Coronavirus outbreak in China in late 2019 was assumed to be a local epidemic, it has been spreading quickly as a major pandemic in history of mankind. The sudden reduction in human activity caused a significant reduction in local energy consumption. In the first days, the effects were limited to a city, but by spreading the virus in more cities and countries, the reduction in electricity demand became a remarkable worldwide problem. In the following, the recent influences of Coronavirus pandemic on the power system, especially the distribution system, are discussed. It is worth mentioning that since the pandemic is still on progress, the information in this paper may change during time.
1) Load profile
The impacts of pandemic on power systems can be studied in terms of both microeconomics and macroeconomics. Total energy consumption has decreased in most affected countries in macroeconomic terms, but this reduction needs scrutiny in microeconomic viewpoint. The complex, paradoxical behavior of various consumers at distribution level brings up a vital need for a prudent inspection to provide a thorough perspective. While most commercial centers connected to the electrical distribution network are closed due to obligatory lockdown policies, residential consumers demand more electrical energy. In this case, the load profile can be considered as those of weekend holidays because people mostly stay at their homes and most of the businesses are closed. However, the demand is not exactly the same as those holidays because some of businesses continue working remotely. Furthermore, another difference is that some of the businesses, which used to be run on holidays, are closed during the pandemic. Fig. 1 illustrates the daily load profile before and after the pandemic announcement in Britain. Clearly, due to the Coronavirus outbreak, this curve is affected significantly and the peak demand had decreased significantly. Precisely, the post-pandemic demand (blue line) has gotten similar to the demand profile of the pre-pandemic profile (green line) in weekends (from 120 h to 168 h, which displays Saturday and Sunday). This will cause various problems in energy market, including a mismatch between the forecasted and the real load. The increase in residential demand poses major challenges for the operation of the distribution network, especially for areas with high residential loads (like residential settlements). Moreover, since many people stay at their homes all day, the residential load profile would increase. The increased residential load may cause various technical problems, including relay settings and line temperature limits, voltage instability . Note [answered in comment]
2) Priority of loads
In addition to load profile alteration, under pandemic conditions, loads' priority would change. During the pandemic, residential settlements can no longer be considered as insensitive loads because electricity is one of the means that is required to provide the Internet and media services, which are obligatory tools in quarantine conditions to help people stay at their homes. While these services satisfy the people in quarantine, people will stay at their homes, but any disruption in these services may cause civil misbehaviour, and people may leave their houses and break the quarantine. Therefore, under pandemic conditions, it is necessary to put residential loads in high priority loads list.
Fig. 1. Britain’s load profile in two different weeks (before and after pandemic announcement) 
3) Financial benefits/losses of DISCOs
Distribution companies (DISCOs) may enjoy the increase in revenue due to the increase in residential demand, but due to the loss caused by reduced commercial demand, which has higher tariffs, DISCOs will experience a financial loss. It is also worth mentioning that due to remarkable reduction in industrial and commercial loads, electricity generation cost would decrease. This is because expensive generation units can be taken out of circuit or continue operating at minimum output, which means the electrical demand would be cheaper. Therefore, DISCOs can deal with generation companies (GENCOs) to buy the electricity with lower price to lower their financial balance. Although this helps DISCOs to reduce their financial loss, it cannot necessarily compensate their loss completely. Furthermore, the changed prices in the energy market will affect the bidirectional energy flow between PV-equipped houses and the network in smart grids. Previously, individuals could sell their generated electricity during peak hours with higher prices, but now, DISCOs have alternative cheap resources of electricity. Therefore, PV-equipped houses may prefer to consume the generated power by themselves, which reduces the power flow from the houses to the grid.
4) Safety and hygiene
Repair and maintenance operations are usually performed via human resources, but during Coronavirus outbreak, the personnel are in a serious danger of potential COVID-19 infection. This poses a major challenge because maintaining employees’ health is a top priority. Therefore, performing the repair and maintenance programs have to be carried out with specific hygiene considerations. Under this condition, the significance of smart grids can be highlighted. In a highly-automated smart grid, some of the maneuvers and reconfigurations can be carried out automatically, which means less risk for engineers and personnel.
5) Repair and maintenance
Reducing commercial demand creates opportunities for network operators. These operations have to be performed on the network as scheduled. By reducing demand in these parts of the network, it is possible to perform network repair and maintenance programs earlier. In this way, it is possible to reduce the scheduled power outages after the pandemic crisis. In fact, by performing scheduled maintenance programs during the pandemic, the network will enjoy less scheduled outages, which means less energy not supplied (ENS) and better reliability indices in the near future (after the pandemic). Due to the fact that major commercial consumers have the highest consumption at peak hours in big cities and the growth rate of demand in these sections is higher, reconfigurations can also be considered in this low-demand period [3, 4]. Note [answered in comment]
6) Post pandemic effects
In addition to the effects during the pandemic, the post-pandemic effects have to be considered carefully. The energy demand will rebound after the pandemic. This phenomenon happens in various applications, particularly after obligatory limitations on energy consumption, which results in remarkable demand rebound after the clearance of the forced short-term regulations . However, a quick rebound is not expected after the pandemic. In this case, this will occur slowly, which may not be a serious challenge, but the factor that makes it important is the huge amount of power changes after the pandemic. This variation depends on different factors, including countries’ policies for reopening the businesses and medical treatments. If certain antiviral drugs are found, which could cure the patients, the changes may occur faster. In this regard, load profile changes must be monitored carefully.
The new Coronavirus pandemic has major impacts on various aspects of human life. Power systems, as one of the most critical infrastructures, are also influenced by this crisis. While the consequences of such world-wide crises are mainly unpleasant, in addition to the challenges for the power system, the pandemic provides some opportunities to improve the power system’s reliability indices. Both challenges and opportunities, which are more complex at the distribution level, are discussed in this paper.
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This article edited by Frances Bell
Abbas Shahbazian received the B.Sc. degree in power engineering from the Bu-Ali Sina University, Hamedan, Iran, in 2013, and the M.Sc. degree from K. N. Toosi University of Technology, Tehran, Iran, in 2017, where he is currently a PhD student. His research interests include load forecasting, power system planning, reliability, and automation in distribution system. He has been with Electrical Distribution Company of Hamedan (EDCH) since 2019. Abbas is a member of Iran’s National Elites Foundation and a reviewer of IEEE transactions on vehicular technology.
Mohammad Tavakoli Bina (S’98–M’01–SM’07) received the B.Sc. degree in power electronics and power system utility applications from the University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran, in 1988, and the M.Sc. degree in power electronics and power system utility applications from the University of and Ferdowsi, Mashhad, Iran, in 1991, and the Ph.D. degree from the University of Surrey, Guildford, U.K., in 2001. From 1992 to 1997, he was a Lecturer with the K. N. Toosi University of Technology, Tehran, where he was involved in power systems. He joined the Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering, K. N. Toosi University of Technology, in 2001, where he is currently a Professor of electrical engineering, and involved in teaching and conducting research in the area of power electronics and utility applications.