Sep 2, 2021 - Energy & Environment

How work patterns created during pandemic will affect future energy use

Illustration of a briefcase silhouetted in front of a covid-shaped sunset

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A new report explores how emerging work patterns created under the pandemic's strain may create important long-term shifts in energy use, but not in ways that significantly change emissions.

Driving the news: The latest multidecade energy outlook from the consultancy DNV provides a look at some new normals around remote labor and virtual services.

  • "The consolidation of using remote communication and digital tools has permanently affected our ways of working and service provision, reducing transport needs in all sectors," they write.

How it works: They see a long-term 5% reduction in workspace demand in developed regions including China, and half that in developing economies.

  • However, they estimate a "small increase" in private cars instead of public transit, and growing demand for suburban and rural homes "will counterbalance the effect of lower frequency of office working, leaving overall car use unchanged."
  • "Residential energy demand in developed regions will thus increase by 4%, half of which arises from bigger dwelling sizes and half from increased requirements for heating and cooling."

The intrigue: The report also projects that new habits will crimp air travel that was initially cut in half by COVID.

  • But the general trend will still be sharply upward, even with long-term business travel 20% lower than under their pre-pandemic forecast.
  • "By 2050, we will see annual global passenger flights growing 130% from 4.4 billion flights in 2019 to 10.2 billion flights in 2050," they note.
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