COVID-19 slowed global progress on energy efficiency: IEA report

Shift in energy demand from commercial to residential buildings, and from public to private transport, was largely witnessed, the report noted

By Susan Chacko
Published: Friday 04 December 2020

Global progress on using more efficient sources of energy was set to slow down as a result of the economic impacts of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, according to the new International Energy Agency (IEA) report, Energy Efficiency 2020

This is likely to threaten the progress needed to achieve the worlds shared goals of addressing climate change, air pollution and access to energy.

The construction industry, for example, witnessed a partial shift in energy demand from commercial to residential buildings. The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with social distancing and teleworking, brought down the use of commercial buildings this year.

Electricity use in residential buildings in the first half of 2020 grew by 20 per cent in some countries; it fell by around 10 per cent in commercial buildings, the report said.

The increase in time spent at home was used to conduct activities that consumed energy, leading to significant and complex shifts in energy demand. In India, electricity demand rose as residential cooling loads increased, while in Europe, heating energy use contributed to 40 per cent higher electricity consumption in March and early April 2020.

As shops and offices re-open, commercial buildings could become more energy intensive if occupants expect higher ventilation rates to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, the report said. Around 30 per cent of a building’s energy is dissipated in ventilation and exfiltration. This would only increase with higher ventilation rates.

Efficiency measures in buildings face delays in some markets. Technical efficiency improvements in some markets have been delayed as lockdowns and physical distancing curtail building contractors’ physical access to premises.

Smart meter installations came down 80-90 per cent at the height of lockdown in India and the United Kingdom, but returned to the 2019 levels by the third quarter of 2020. Economic uncertainty could further delay investments in the buildings sector, with future growth projections for materials such as energy-efficient glass around 6 per cent weaker than pre-pandemic projections, the report said.

Change in mobility patterns

The pandemic also impacted how we travelled. Long-distance transport witnessed dramatic falls in activity across all modes, with commercial aviation likely to be 60% lower in 2020 and rail demand 30% lower.

The difference between the fall suggests that at least domestically, a shift from planes to trains and cars took place. Shifts from aviation to rail would reduce energy intensity, whereas a shift to road vehicles may increase it.

Shifts in urban transport from public transport to cars were also witnessed, according to the report. Use of public transport remained far below the typical levels as people remained fearful of infection risk.

Among the urban mobility modes, public transport (bus, metro and rail) was hit the hardest. In countries where the health crisis was particularly severe, trips by public transport remain around 40 per cent lower than before the pandemic.

In cities, people moved away from public transport — the use of which came down 50 per cent in some countries — to private cars. Some also switched to active modes of transport such as walking, cycling or using non-motorised vehicles.

The energy efficiency trends worldwide with progress in energy efficiency lagging and facing setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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