Secrets of the coronavirus lockdown lifestyle laid bare in power market data

Pedestrians walk along Westminster Bridge in a quiet central London, on March 25, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - Life in lockdown means getting up late, staying up till midnight and slacking off in the afternoons.

That's what power market data shows in Europe in the places where restrictions on activity have led to a widespread shift in daily routines of hundreds of millions of people.

It's a similar story wherever lockdowns bite. In New York, electricity use has fallen as much as 18 per cent from normal times at 8am. Tokyo and three nearby prefectures had a 5 per cent drop in power use during weekdays after Japan declared a state of emergency on April 7, according to Tesla Asia Pacific, an energy forecaster.

Italy's experience shows the trend most clearly since the curbs started there on March 5, before any other European country. Data from the grid operator Terna SpA gives a taste of what other places are also now starting to report.

1. People are sleeping later

With no commute to the office, people can sleep longer. Normally, electricity demand begins to pick up between 6am and 8am. Now in Germany, it's clear coffee machines don't go on until between 8am and 9am, said Mr Simon Rathjen, founder of the trading company MFT Energy A/S.

Germany, France and Italy - which between them make up almost two thirds of the euro zone economy - all have furlough measures that allow workers to receive a salary while temporarily suspended from their jobs. Britain also has a support package. Many of these workers will be getting up later.

"Now I have quite a relaxed start to the morning," said Mr David Freeman, an analyst in financial services from London. "I don't get up until about half an hour before I need to start work."

2. Less productive afternoons

There is a deeper dip in electricity use in the afternoons. Previously, power use rose between 2pm and 5pm. Now it dips as people head out for a walk or some air. This chart from British grid operator National Grid shows that afternoon drop-off.

It's "as though we are living through a month of Sundays", said Mr Iain Staffell, senior lecturer in sustainable energy at Imperial College London.

3. Evenings in

From 6pm, electricity use begins to rise steeply as people finish work and start chores. Restrictions like work and home schooling that prevent much daytime TV watching lift in the early evening. Data for Germany shows the evening peak for power use coming during later hours.

The evening is when electricity use is highest, with most people confined to their homes. Data from SensorTower Inc show more than 70 million global downloads for Netflix Inc's and as many as 9.6 million new customers for the TV streaming service.

Internet traffic is skyrocketing, with a surge in bandwidth-intensive applications such as Netflix and Zoom. This may mean that monthly broadband consumption of as much as 600 gigabytes, about 35 per cent higher than before, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

In Singapore, electricity use has dropped off significantly since the country's "circuit-breaker" efforts to keep people at home began on April 7. Electricity use has fallen and stayed low during the day. But late at night is a different story, as power demand fell sharply immediately after the lockdown began but has steadily crept back in the past two weeks, perhaps a sign that shows like Tiger King and The Last Dance have been finding late-night fans in the city state.

4. Staying up late

We're going to bed later too. Demand doesn't start to drop off until 10pm to 12am, at least an hour later than before.

"My children are definitely going to bed later," said Ms Liz Stevens, a teaching assistant from London. "Our whole routine is out the window."

It's challenging for those who need to predict behaviour - power grids and electricity traders. Forecasting is based on historical data, and there isn't anything to go into the models gauging use now.

The closest we can get is looking at big events like football World Championships when people are all sitting down at the same time, according to Mr Rathjen at MFT.

"Forecasting demand right now is very tricky," said Mr Chris Kimmett, director of power grids at Reactive Technologies. "A global pandemic is uncharted territory."

What normal looks like when the crisis passes is also an open question. Different countries are set to unravel their measures in their own ways, with Germany and Austria loosening restrictions first and Italy remaining under tight control. Some changes may be permanent, with both workers and employers becoming more comfortable with working from home.

5. Different sectors consume more

In China, which is further along recovering from the pandemic than Europe or the United States, the sharp contraction in overall power output masks a shift in daily routines.

Eating habits have changed. Restaurants are expanding delivery and even offering grocery services as the preference for dining at home persists. Household electricity consumption in China probably increased from activities such as cooking and heating, according to IHS Markit, which said that residential demand rose by 2.4 per cent in the first two months as people stayed in.

The increase in technology use also drove China's power demand from the telecoms and Web-service sectors to rise by 27 per cent, the consultancy said.

Overall, power consumption in the first quarter of the year fell 6.5 per cent from the same period in 2019 to 1.57 trillion kilowatt-hours, China's National Energy Administration said last week. Industry uses about 70 per cent of the country's electricity, while the commercial sector and households account for 14 per cent each.

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