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Texas A&M researchers create new data hub to help show how the pandemic has affected electricity use

Published: Dec. 14, 2020 at 10:55 PM CST
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BRYAN-COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - A Texas A&M professor and his team have created a new data hub to track how the pandemic has affected electricity use.

Not long after the shutdown, Le Xie wanted to find answers to exactly that question. That’s why he and his team created a unique data hub called COVID-EMDA+, which stands for electricity market data aggregation.

“It offers a unique capability for conducting more comprehensive statistical and correlational studies,” Xie said.

The hub combines five primary data domains from electricity markets (such as The Electric Reliability Council of Texas), public health, weather, mobile devices, and satellite imaging published by NASA to help show what is impacting the change of electricity consumption in the U.S.

“These several new dimensions of data sets, seemingly quite unrelated, provided a very unique coupling and perspectives on how each other affects the overall consumption of electricity,” Xie said.

According to Xie, one of the most impactful findings presented by COVID-EMDA+ was how human mobility data correlated with electricity use in certain areas.

“There is a strong relationship between mobility, like visits to the retail sector, and the electricity consumption changes,” Xie said.

It’s a finding backed up by the way Bryan Texas Utilities (BTU) has provided electricity to its customers since the pandemic began in March.

“I would say that the change in residential was negligible, but the change in small commercial at 12% you can definitely see the impact of COVID in that particular customer class,” BTU Executive Director of Business and Customer Operations David Werley said.

Werley says they were surprised to see BTU has actually seen a 5% decrease in electricity consumption among its residential customers since the onset of the pandemic.

“We thought with more people being home that would actually increase,” Werley said. “But there’s always some weather variables involved with the electric business, so it’s not always a one-for-one trade.”

Moving forward, Xie hopes this new tool can help people better understand the social-economic impact of COVID on different customer clusters.

“Someone who works the night shift at McDonald’s may not have the same luxury as someone who can afford to work from home,” Xie said. “That certainly has different implications in terms of the energy burden on their households.”

Xie says partnerships have already formed with several utility companies to help them better understand the customers they serve and their patterns of energy consumption.

“It was viewed very favorably as a way of supplementing their internal decision-making tools when it comes to making predictions on electricity consumption changes,” Xie said.

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