How Pandemic Power Use Could Reshape India’s Residential Energy Demand

A new analysis shows how energy consumption patterns shifted during that period and, together with consumer shopping data, provides clues to how the pandemic could drive long-term change in electricity use.

When COVID-19 first threatened India last year, the country was quick to enforce a strict lock-down that kept people in their homes for weeks. A new analysis shows how energy consumption patterns shifted during that period and, together with consumer shopping data, provides clues to how the pandemic could drive long-term change in electricity use.

From March to June 2020, when most of India was sheltered in place, electricity consumption fell sharply, led by a collapse in demand among industrial and commercial users. Data from the National Load Dispatch Center showed that in April, electricity generation was 22% lower than during the same month a year prior, according to researchers with EnergyA. The drop reversed a long-standing growth trend driven by India’s expanding economy, rapid urbanization and aggressive rural electrification. According to International Energy Agency estimates, India’s electricity demand could triple by 2040, partly as a result of increased appliance ownership.

A notable exception to the lockdown-related drop in power demand was in the residential sector, which saw an uptick in electricity use during that time. India’s residential sector has been a key contributor to overall electric demand growth: residential use accounted for more than 24% of total electricity consumption in 2016, and has been projected to increase more than 8-fold by 2050. During the lockdown, residential demand spiked: an analysis by Prayas Energy Group of 81 households in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra found that daily average electricity consumption rose 26%, with some households using as much as 60% more energy when residents were confined at home.

This lockdown energy use data gives an insight into how the pandemic is affecting consumers and, combined with recent shopping indicators, could signal a longer-term shift in energy usage patterns. Household appliance sales initially plummeted during the lockdown, but when restrictions were relaxed, sales rebounded in categories including washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators, reflecting a heightened interest in labor-saving equipment. Cooling appliances like air conditioners, evaporative coolers, and ceiling fans also saw a demand jump, as the start of summer bumped up against long days spent indoors.

One major driver for these changes was the sudden absence of in-home help for large sections of the middle class that previously employed domestic workers. Another was the shift to work and school at home, leading to a spike in interest for consumer information and entertainment devices. This trend is reflected in increased Google search activity for the key terms “laptop,” “dishwasher,” and “vacuum cleaner” after the start of the lockdown in the chart below (figures reflect the number of keyword searches relative to the highest point over the time period).

Google Trends data for searches in India on select keywords; shading reflects the period of strict COVID-19 lockdown.

Expanding energy efficiency to meet the moment

With the impacts of the pandemic continuing and likely to shape labor and entertainment patterns for months or years to come, these early data suggest a potentially long-lasting shift for household energy use.

As the Indian government works to limit the economic impacts of the pandemic and “build back better,” accelerating the pace and scope of appliance efficiency policymaking offers opportunities to increase value to consumers while spurring job growth in research and development and innovation. Efficiency policies increase the availability of high-quality appliances that use less energy, returning money to consumers through lower energy bills. Moreover, efficiency policy contributes to other national policy goals such as improving air quality where power is generated from coal, contributing to public health. Energy efficiency also supports India’s national security by reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels, in line with the Prime Minister’s vision to build Atmanirbhar Bharat or a “self-reliant India.”

With one of the fastest-growing energy efficiency programs in the world, India demonstrates how smart energy policy can support consumer and economic well-being and be an effective tool to foster sustainable economic development in a post-COVID world. Read about India’s recently adopted policies for air compressors and ultra-high-definition televisions.

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