Coronavirus slows global energy demand causing carbon dioxide emissions to plummet

James Marshall
April 30, 2020

Using the data from the first 100 days of the year, the report estimates how energy consumption and carbon emissions are likely to evolve over 2020 as the world battles the pandemic and recovers from its economic fallout.

According to Birol, "This is a historic shock to the entire energy world".

It predicted that global energy demand would fall six percent in 2020 - seven times more than during the 2008 financial crisis and the biggest year-on-year drop since World War II. A number of European Union countries initiated partial lockdowns prior to a full lockdown, resulting on average in a 17% reduction in weekly energy demand in comparison to weather corrected demand reductions of 25% in countries with more stringent lockdowns and higher shares of services in the economy.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts a year-on-year reduction of around 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from energy use including electricity, transport and heating, bringing emissions to levels they were 10 years ago. When one of the major consumers India goes for a full national lockdown it reduces energy demand by nearly 30 per cent - with each additional week of lockdown, annual energy demand is reduced by 0.6 per cent, according to the latest report of International Energy Agency (IEA).

"It is still too early to determine the longer-term impacts, but the energy industry that emerges from this crisis will be significantly different from the one that came before", Birol added.

"Given the number of deaths and the economic trauma around the world - this historic decline in global emissions is absolutely nothing to cheer", Mr Birol said, urging governments to seize on the disruptions to build greener energy infrastructure. "We have been pleased to see the Government of India working closely with its citizens and companies to ensure energy supplies and navigate this hard time", he said. The impact of the crisis on energy demand is heavily dependent on the duration and stringency of measures to curb the spread of the virus.

This would be the equivalent of losing the entire energy demand of India, the world's third-largest power consumer, the IEA said.

However, the drop in global demand has allowed for renewables to take on a larger share of the generation mix, with the United Kingdom breaking its coal-free record earlier this week due to a combination of low demand and high levels of renewables, notably solar.

Bucking the trend, renewable energy demand increased by 1.5%, which the IEA said was largely driven by the additional wind and solar projects that came online over the past year and the priority given to renewables in most power sectors.

Electricity demand has also slowed, falling 20 per cent or more, with overall demand for power set to decline 5 per cent this year, the biggest drop since the Great Depression.

Coal and natural gas "are finding themselves increasingly squeezed between low overall power demand and increasing output from renewables", the report said.

The share of fossil fuels, notably gas and coal in the energy mix, is set to drop 3 percentage points in 2020, a level not seen since 2001, according to the agency.

Carbon intensive coal demand has so far been hit the hardest by the pandemic, with demand in both the first quarter and projections for 2020 as a whole down eight per cent compared with the same periods previous year.

But the IEA warned that, like in other crises, the rebound in emissions after the pandemic could be larger than the decline unless investment in restarting the economy goes towards cleaner and more resilient energy supplies.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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