Electricity usage has taken a massive swap out from industrial and commercial to domestic since the Covid-19 emergency closed ‘non-essential’ business and confined the bulk of the nation’s workers and families to their homes.

Estimates are that overall demand for electricity has dropped by about 15%, despite household demand increasing, although regional power distributor Unison can’t yet size the household percentage.

The decline in industrial use however has created its own imbalance in the way the national grid operates, causing Transpower to implement automatic load balancing and ask its retailers to immediately report any issues they’re having.

Low use of industrial electricity has the potential to create stability problems on Transpower’s national grid, so it moved from midnight (15-04) to use automatic under-frequency load shedding (AUFLS), often considered a last resort in cases where the network is overused or underused.

AUFLS are the set of relays which automatically trip blocks of load following a severe under-frequency event where the frequency dips below 48Hz and can cause “cascade failure”.

The System Operator relies on these to prevent “system collapse … following under-frequency events which have the potential to cause a system black-out.”

Locally, Unison spokesperson Danny Gough says it’s too early to determine the exact regional rise and falls of usage under Level 4 lockdown or the ongoing economic repercussions.

“Unison’s focus for the time-being is on maintaining the security and reliability of the network and only carrying out essential work.” Most employees are operating from home.

Having people work or study from home plus the greater use home appliances including TV and computers (to say nothing of the fridge light!) has contributed to the increase, with estimates made of an average domestic power bill rising $3-$6 a week.

That’s likely to spike further as winter bites and the heaters go on.

Unison is trying to figure where it can offer most relief for those struggling and announced an average 10% price reduction effective from 1 April. “We’re encouraging retailers to pass this on in their billing to customers.”

Gough is also urging customers to access the Government’s winter energy payment, which has been doubled for this winter, and to shop around for the best electricity retail prices.

“We are hopeful the government’s wage subsidy and benefit increase will go some way to helping people in the community during this difficult time,” says Gough.

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