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EEG responds to COVID-19

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have and will be widespread across all sectors and economies, including the power sector. Resilience to external shocks of this sort are in part underpinned by the capacity of key systems, such as power supplies, to provide critical services.

From powering health sectors under unprecedented stress and ensuring key supply chains continue to function, to supporting governance and security capabilities – the dependence of populations on reliable energy supplies will be thrown into sharp relief.

It is likely that COVID-19 will reveal new issues to consider in future approaches to energy system planning, operation and maintenance in developing countries – whether they relate to better understanding of the role reliable power plays in underpinning societies’ resilience to pandemics or the impact global health crises have on the resilience of power systems themselves.

Research on the relationship between COVID-19 and electricity and economic growth will be key. Read more here about how EEG is responding to the need for evidence.

An online workshop investigating the impacts and coping mechanisms for COVID-19 in Malawi’s energy sector is being organised by a team from Mzuzu University, Malawi.

The preventative measures put in place in the country (such as working from home, restricting the number of people in workplaces, social distancing and strict hygiene requirements) can increase operational costs across a number of business sectors and is causing businesses to stand still. The induced shutdowns bring complications to the supply chain management of traditional biomass, which contributes 89% of Malawi’s energy mix. It is therefore important to understand how the energy sector in Malawi is coping with the crisis and what lessons can be learnt for future energy systems management planning.

The workshop will examine the options for meeting energy needs in light of the dictates for preventing COVID-19, and will draw lessons for enhancing energy system resilience. Conducted via an online platform, the workshop will involve 22 participants from government ministries, utilities and energy companies, energy and construction regulators, a consumer association, civil society, professional bodies and development partners in Malawi.

Access to reliable electricity during the COVID-19 crisis will allow households and businesses to continue productive activities, operate machinery and stay up to date with accurate public health information, helping to counteract negative economic forces and slow the spread of the pandemic. But with stay-at-home orders and lockdown restrictions affecting incomes, it’s likely that many people in the world’s poorest communities will be unable to pay monthly electricity bills – meaning they miss out on potential benefits during this crucial time. Increased stress on the electricity grid, and reduced staffing for maintenance, may also cause increased power outages.

As an extension to the EEG-funded GridWatch project, a team from the University of California, Berkeley, is researching resilience to economic shocks through sustained and reliable electricity access.

The team will employ a rapid low-cost phone and SMS surveying, leveraging its ongoing fieldwork in both Kenya and Ghana to generate a sample of more than 2,000 individuals with pre-paid meters, comprising a mix of homes and firms. They will then compare the value of electricity subsidies in rural regions of Kenya as well as in the urban area of Accra, Ghana. The team will monitor the impact of subsidies on those that are receiving them, and on their response to the crisis. They will also investigate issues related to infrastructure stress and increased power outages.

Young woman at university, Bamako, Mali

A team from the Netherlands’ Wageningen University is investigating whether electricity access will help communities cope with COVID-19 in Sierra Leone. It will assess how the crisis and response measures are impacting residents, clinics and schools, and whether experiences vary across communities that have access to electricity and those that do not (for example, electrified communities could have more capacity to implement mitigation strategies).

Through its existing EEG research project, the team has collected detailed information for over 6,000 respondents in 108 communities across Sierra Leone (54 with access to electricity, and 54 without). The team will collect data via phone surveys as part of an umbrella project covering a larger sample across a longer time frame.

A team from the Asia Centre for Sustainable Development, Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe) in New Delhi is producing an Energy Insight on the impact of COVID-19 on electricity systems and a framework to make them resilient in BBIN countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal).

It will be based on desktop research, power system data analysis, expert interaction and stakeholder engagement. A macro-level rapid assessment of vulnerability and risk associated with electricity in BBIN countries will be undertaken; a broad-level estimation will be carried out on the extent of the impact of COVID-19 on electricity systems in BBIN countries; and BBIN countries’ response under COVID-19 conditions will be analysed. Based on the findings, comprehensive mitigation frameworks, strategies and protocols for protecting electricity systems under such situations will be suggested.

Worker fixing electric cables on pole, Kathmandu, Nepal, 2018

Many Sub-Saharan African countries rely heavily on bilateral and/or multilateral investment and loans to develop and modernise their energy systems. But COVID-19 will have a fundamental impact on national energy development plans, project finance and implementations, and local communities and livelihoods. A team from the UK’s Institute of Development Studies (IDS) is creating an Energy Insight on the effect of COVID-19 on foreign energy investment and finance in sub-Saharan Africa.

The team will examine the impacts and opportunities, with close analysis of the change of policies and risk perceptions among policy makers, investors and financiers. Data will be collected from stakeholder interviews, combined with analysis of media coverage since the pandemic outbreak, with particular focus on existing energy projects and on-going negotiations. The paper will serve to enhance the preparedness from both African governments and investors on the impacts of COVID-19 and identify possible solutions for remedies, new directions and future energy transition pathways.

power company managers discussing blueprint

A team from the University of Chicago is producing an Energy Insight on tracking contemporaneous and future COVID-19 impacts using high-frequency electricity and pollution data from India, where the costs imposed by the lockdown may be particularly high because of a large and economically vulnerable population with limited savings, often dependent on daily-wage labour in the informal sector.

The team will compile a rich dataset comprising information on electricity generation/consumption and pollution, which can be monitored continuously and are directly linked to economic activity across sectors. Because these measures can be spatially disaggregated, they also provide information on the degree of economic damage that different parts of the country may be enduring. This will be extremely useful for guiding interventions to provide economic support to businesses and households.

Man wearing protective mask  in front of factory with air pollution
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Coping with shock: Last-mile distributors and COVID-19

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EEG Energy Insight: International energy sector response to COVID-19

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