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Confinement Impact on Energy in Italy

Main authors: Annette Werth, Giulio Prevedello
SONY Computer Science Lab - Paris

The Energy Situation in Italy after COVID-19 Lockdown

In this report we provide a descriptive study on the effect of the lockdown, during the COVID-19 emergency, to energy distribution and usage.

As a case study, we will cover Italy as the first European country severely affect by the epidemic and whose national restrictions were imposed on the 9th of March 2020.

Data and Methodology

To this end, we will analyse data we obtained from Transparency Platform of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity (ENTSOE), although due to missing or unlabelled data, some statistics will result as outliers or look inconsistent. Moreover, to detect changes between before and after the lockdown, we decide not to preprocess the data for seasonal and weather effects, which impact notably on energy usage and production. Instead, our method is to compare 2020 with 2019. Still, data until 2016 are included in the graphs, but previous years are less complete. For instance, 2017 Italy’s dataset lacks several months of generation data for fossil gas. To avoid the inclusion of holidays and incomplete weeks to the extreme of out data (namely at the begin of each year and in May), we exclude: the days before the first Monday of the year occurring after the 1st of January; the days after the latest Sunday occurring before the 15th of May.

Confinement Impact on Total Energy Consumption

Looking at the daily electricity usage in 2020, we observe a clear drop in consumption when the national lockdown was imposed.

One month into the lockdown, we observe:

By the end of April, Italy started softening the lockdown restrictions. This can readily be seen in the data: weekdays electricity consumption shows a partial increase, reflecting the gradual economic uptake.

Daily Load during the Confinement

To get an insight of how this lockdown impacted economic activities and people’s life, we computed the daily load patterns, averaged over the weeks and excluding all the weekdays, for the the days ranging from 6/1/2020 (or 7/1/2019 for 2019 data) to 3/9/2020 for “before lockdown” and from 3/9/2020 to 10/5/2020 (or 12/5/2019 for 2019 data) for “after lockdown”.

As previously, we observe a considerable dip in the general load. Though a part of it can be attributed to the warmer season, the decrease seems more pronounced:

Impact on the Generation Mix

Considering the consumption decreased significantly, we wondered how energy generation was impacted. Which sources of energy experienced a decrease? How were renewable sources affected? To answer these questions, we split the data in before and after the lockdown, and plot the percentage of energy generation from each source. Since generation from renewables, such as solar and hydro, are highly dependent on the season and the weather conditions, we avoid to make a direct comparison using only 2020 data. Instead we compare the differences in energy sources’ percentages between 2020 and 2019, splitting again 2019 on the 9th of March (i.e. 2020 lockdown). For simplicity we omitted Pumped Hydro Storage in this graph.

Over the considered period of time:

The reasons for the steep drop in gas generation are yet to be investigated: gas-fired plants are easily adjustable to changing load, which makes them most impacted by this crisis. However, there could be other reasons, such as a COVID-19 related impact to the supply chain of gas. Indeed, “Italy imports around 90% of its gas demand and relies on imports from Russia to help fire its power plants”source.

Daily Generation Patterns

As energy is generated by many sources, and each source may change production rate during the day (e.g. Solar), here we investigate the lockdown effect to the daily average generation, split by sources.

Notably, fossil gas generation dropped by 26% when comparing the restriction period from 2020 to the same period in 2019, for an absolute value of 4550GWh (the energy powering about 5.6M people in Italy, considering that the daily per capita energy consumption is 12.8kWh). Such difference is particularly clear in the weeks immediately after the lockdown. Comparing the pre-lockdown period from these years, instead, we observe only a 2% difference.

This translates into 168,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions saved over the 2020 lockdown time (taking 0.37 tCO2eq/MWh source).

With the decrease of fossil gas generation during the lockdown, solar energy has become number one generation source during lunch hours (on average). This was not the case for 2019.

Note: Pumped Hydro Storage can be positive or negative depending on whether it is used to generate or consume energy.

Evolution of Generation Sources over Time

The previous graphs showed the difference in energy generation from before to after the lockdown. Next, we plot how the weekly average energy production transitioned with time, for each source.

As expected, each source (and therefore the sum) decreased their energy generation due to confinement, but interestingly we also notice the typical weekly pattern almost disappearing.

Comparing this plot with the load, we report a similar increased generation with the softening of the lockdown. Differently from the load figure, however, the decrement observed here is more gradual and overall smaller, indicating that a change in electricity imports and exports, with neighbouring countries, may have occurred.

Import Export balance: Italy becomes almost Energy self-sufficient

We computed the total generation as well as the Exchange Balance (i.e. Imports minus Exports for all neighbouring countries). The sum of both should be equal to the total consumption, unless inconsistencies are present in the data (see year 2017).

This graph is highly interesting as it clearly shows that the big drop in consumption was mainly balanced by a decrease in energy imports. Interestingly, we see that the consumption drop after the lockdown was recapitulated by a decrease in energy imports. In particular, we see weeks with a very small average Exchange Balance, indicating that Italy (typically an importing country) reached periods of self-sufficiency during the COVID-19 crisis.

Impact to Italian Imports and Exports

Traditionally Italy is a net importer, primarily from France (71% nuclear, 10% hydro) and Switzerland (34% nuclear, 58% hydro). Thus, given the decrease in Exchange Balance we reported previously, we wonder: which country had the biggest change in power exchange with Italy?


From the plots above we mainly observe:


Italy’s exports are almost insignificant (Beware of the scale of the y-axes compared to the imports!).

After the lockdown Italy exported much more energy to Switzerland and Slovenia. Switzerland usually exports to Italy, but after the lockdown they imported between 5GWh/day and 20GWh/day (weekly mean). Compared to last year’s data we can observe that Switzerland often absorbs excess energy when Italy has National Holidays for instance, but the amounts in 2020 were at least double.

Conclusion and Main Observations

This report highlights the deep impact of the confinement policies imposed to the Italian population during the COVID-19 epidemic. Italy generated energy mostly by renewables and fossil gas, which proved to be a very flexible energy mix that ensured a stable power supply, while increasing the percentage of green energy. Moreover, Italy could reduce the electricity generation from gas and reduce imports from neighbouring countries.

Here is a summary of the most important changes we observed:

It will be interesting to compare to other European countries with different energy sources or less stringent confinement restrictions, which we may cover in future reports.