California energy officials indicated last Friday they are taking steps to track and mitigate the coronavirus stay-home mandates’ impact on the energy mix in the nation’s most populous state.

While natural gas use is flat or down, residential electricity use has jumped 15-20% compared to the same period last year (while overall power use has dropped), according to Marybel Batjer, president of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in announcing actions to avoid rate shock for home-bound consumers.

“We have taken action to ensure that this does not become an added hardship for people who have lost their jobs or are otherwise suffering economically due to Covid-19,” Batjer said.

Energy officials expect the spikes in weekday energy use to taper off steadily the longer the shelter-in-place edict stays in effect. On both the gas and electric sides there have been no threats to reliability, the officials said.

As part of the state grid operator’s tracking of the statewide stay-home policy, the most significant impacts have been during weekdays in the San Francisco Bay Area for Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and in the south in Southern California Edison Co.’s (SCE) territory.

From March 17-28, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) noted load reductions of 5-8% on weekdays, and 1-4% on weekends,” said CAISO spokesperson Anne Gonzales. “The heaviest impacts have been over the morning peak hours,” she said.

Gonzales said that CAISO is using information from their counterparts in Europe, particularly Italy and Spain, where the spread of the virus is several weeks ahead of the fallout in the United States. “We have observed load progressively decreasing as the stay-home order continues,” she said.

Based on Italy and Spain, CAISO engineers expect the load reductions will level off soon at the three-week marker since the stay-home began.

“Load forecasting is more challenging, due to a lack of historical statistical data for a pandemic event,” said Gonzales, adding that CAISO is taking steps to reduce forecast errors in its day-ahead and real-time markets.

Meanwhile, the CPUC said it will accelerate the use of two programs designed to reduce monthly consumer bills over the next three months -- April through June -- changing how bills are calculated through the remainder of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Most immediately, the state’s Climate Credit will be used to reduce April utility bills. These funds come from funds paid by power plants, gas providers and other large industries to obtain carbon credits for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The CPUC also is allowing full access to the CARE rate discount program providing 20-35% rate discounts to many people who have lost their jobs to the virus shutdown.