COVID-19 Lightens Electricity Load, but Reliability Remains Strong

PJM Has Noted a Later Morning Peak and Lower Demand, Similar to a Snow Day


While the coronavirus outbreak has made a moderate impact on the demand for power throughout the region served by PJM Interconnection, the electrical grid continues to operate reliably for 65 million people in 13 states and Washington, D.C. PJM continues to work with utility partners across the region daily, coordinating generation and transmission needs as social distancing precautions affect work patterns.

PJM’s observations from March 17–19 show the morning peak arriving one to two hours later than forecast models typically predict – shifting from about 8 a.m. to 9–10 a.m., with the evening peak approximately 5 percent lower than expected. The load curve also is flatter, without the same fluctuations usually shown by morning and evening peaks and valleys, when people are preparing for work in the morning or dinner at night.  

PJM is tasked with matching electricity demand and real-time generation. PJM is in constant contact with federal regulatory and emergency management officials at the local, state and federal level, and has a dedicated liaison embedded in the Montgomery County (PA) emergency operations center.

 “Our most important job is reliability – we are here to keep the lights on,” PJM President and CEO Manu Asthana said. “PJM has plans in place to operate safely in just these kinds of emergency situations, and our incident response team is meeting daily.” 

PJM also is communicating regularly with stakeholders, and coordinating with the pipeline industry, to share our plans and to ensure we are aware of any issues they are experiencing in terms of generation or transmission. Springtime, when the lack of extreme weather puts less stress on the system, is the time when most maintenance is performed by transmission and generation owners, so PJM is working with those stakeholders to address limitations on work posed by social distancing.

The actual load on March 17 compared to a similar day model.

Changes in human behavior are constantly impacting the grid, and when people are telecommuting, they may be getting up later in the absence of a commute, and working more consistently over the course of the day. While we know that there is a reduction in the commercial use of energy as many schools and businesses are closed or operating remotely, that will be offset to some extent by an increase in residential usage, with people running computers, adjusting their thermostats and turning on lights and appliances.

“The impact so far has been noticeable, but not severe,” said Michael Bryson, Senior Vice President – Operations. “This is similar to patterns we typically see on a snow day.”

PJM’s load forecasting models use factors like weather, season, holidays, day of the week, time of day and historical patterns to forecast load.

On Monday, March 16, for example, PJM would normally have expected about 100,000 MW of load. With the special circumstances caused by coronavirus restrictions, the forecast was lowered to about 94,500 MW, and it came in at about 95,500 MW.

Forecasting also involves predicting human behavior. The models do not explicitly take into account the various social distancing measures, but they are expected to start picking up on new trends over time. PJM expects to continue to see continued drop in load, especially as industries close across the region.

While PJM employs a variety of computer-assisted modeling, one of our most valuable tools is the experience of our dispatchers. They are able to take into consideration and account for unusual conditions that a computer has no way of discerning, such as this unprecedented shift in our daily lives as a result of the pandemic response.

One factor that will help our forecasting effort is the time of year. Without extreme heat or cold or corresponding demand for heat or air conditioning, PJM has been seeing relatively low loads, which is typical for spring. The peak load in 2019, for instance was over 151,000 megawatts on July 19; the preliminary estimate for Thursday (March 19) was under 87,000 MW

Already, PJM dispatchers have been able to make refinements to the forecast that greatly increase its accuracy, and we expect our models will continue to learn from these conditions and improve as well.

PJM has implemented a work-from-home policy through April 10 for our employees with the exception of system operators and other shift personnel, and we have moved to longer shifts for those personnel to minimize shift changes. PJM successfully tested its work-from-home capabilities on Friday, March 13, and the PJM markets, planning, stakeholder meetings and member relations can all be operated remotely.

PJM’s campus near Valley Forge, PA, normally hosts about 400 stakeholder meetings each year for its more than 1,000 members. All of those meetings have moved to teleconference, with campus visits being restricted to critical personnel and vendors.

PJM’s Info-Connection page provides ongoing information and updates about its precautions to maintain the safety and security of its employees, stakeholders and the grid as it monitors the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).