Apr 23, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Where coronavirus is fueling more and less energy use

Amy Harder, author of Generate
Data: Innowatts; Note: Data includes four power grids covering Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, Texas, Midwest and California; Chart: Axios Visuals

Storage units are in and car dealerships are out in our coronavirus-fueled shutdowns.

Driving the news: Those inferences are from new power data tracked by analytics company Innowatts. Since electricity consumption directly correlates to human activity, it offers a window into how businesses are faring as much of the country is locked down.

How it works: The chart shows the percentage change between the first full work week of March to the last full work week of March.

  • The data looks at electricity consumption of various different establishments on four different power grids covering the Midwest, lower Northwest and mid-Atlantic, Texas and California.
  • (For the energy wonks among us, we're referring to MISO, PJM, ERCOT and CAISO.)

The intrigue: Many of the changes in electricity consumption are as you would expect — we're drinking more alcohol and hospitals are busy — but a few offer surprising upshots:

  • People really aren't in the mood to buy new cars, even with gasoline prices dirt cheap.
  • Storage unit use is surging. One reason is college students leaving en masse around the country, according to Storable, an online marketplace for storage rental units, and an article in the Florida A&M University newspaper.
  • Hotel power use didn't drop as much as one might expect, though that's likely because they're being repurposed for first responders to stay in, according to Innowatts.

One level deeper: Innowatts also shared more granular data for a few of the establishment types, allowing us to compare different parts of the country. The most interesting inference there was with religious activities.

  • Midwesterners are going to church more than their Eastern Seaboard counterparts.
  • In the Midwest, electricity consumption at religious organizations in the last week of March was 75% compared to the earlier week. In the Northeast, that figure was just 37%.

Go deeper: 10 ways coronavirus is changing energy and climate change

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