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The impact of the UK’s COVID-19 lockdowns on energy demand and emissions

  • Mehlig, D
  • ApSimon, H
  • Staffell, I
Publication Date
Apr 15, 2021
UPCommons. Portal del coneixement obert de la UPC
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Around the world, efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic have profoundly changed human activity, which may have improved air quality and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. We investigated the impact of the pandemic on energy demand and subsequent emissions from electricity and gas throughout 2020 in the UK. The daily pattern of electricity demand changed in both lockdowns, with weekday demand shifting to that of a typical pre-pandemic weekend. Energy demand in 2020 was modelled to reveal the impact of the weather and the pandemic. The first lockdown reduced demand by 15.6% for electricity and 12.0% for commercial gas, whereas the second lockdown produced reductions less than half. Domestic gas demand did not change during the first lockdown, but increased by 6.1% in the second, likely due to increased domestic heat demand. The changes in demand for gas resulted in little change to overall gas consumption emissions during the pandemic. For electricity, large emission reductions occurred during the two lockdowns: up to 22% for CO2, 47% for NO¬x ¬, and 29% for PM2.5. Yet, the largest CO2 emission reduction for electricity in 2020 (25%) occurred before the pandemic, which happened during a warm and stormy spell with exceptional wind generation. These observations suggest that future similar changes in activity may result in little change for gas demand and emissions. For electricity, emission reductions through changes in energy demand are made possible by the generation mix. To enable further emission reductions in the future, the generation mix should continue to decarbonise. This will yield emission reductions in both times of lowered energy demand, but more importantly, during times of high renewable output.

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