In a month since India enforced lockdown to control the spread of coronavirus, the electricity consumption has plummeted by 19.7%, finds a new data tracker developed by researchers at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. The tracker also finds an 11% drop in particulate pollution during this period.

“A drop of 19.7% is a stark decline – larger than the reductions we have seen in China, the US, or Europe as a whole, and similar to Italy between mid-March and mid-April. This indicates that the Indian economy has been strongly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, in line with the strict policy actions taken in India to stop the spread of the virus,” said Fiona Burlig, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy. Burlig along with Dr. Anant Sudarshan, South Asia Director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and Steve Cicala, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy carried out the analysis presented in the tracker.

The tracker indicates that China’s electricity consumption dropped by approximately 15% in January and in the United States, demand has fallen an average of 3.5% since the nationwide stay-at-home recommendations were issued; compared to December 2019. Reflecting on the historical trend, Burlig adds, “There has been a steady growth in Indian electricity consumption – around 5% per year – from 2013, but consumption in March and April is back down to 2013-14 levels.”

Declining and increasing consumption has historically preceded economic recessions and recovery. Explaining why the findings of the tracker can be crucial, Dr. Sudarshan says, “A major challenge with fast-moving economic events like COVID-19 is that our normal statistics which tell us about the health of the economy – GDP; job creation; etc. – are reported relatively slowly (often quarterly). Electricity consumption is a metric that is available in near-real-time, making it informative about the overall health of the economy as well as the response of the economy to policies like the nationwide lockdown.”

Apart from indicating the electricity consumption pattern, the data tracker also gives insights into the situation of particulate pollution of different countries around the world. Talking about India, Dr. Sudarshan adds, “Particulate pollution is on average 11% lower than what would have been expected using a pre-COVID model of particulate matter. And that means that the declines we’re seeing are after adjusting for seasonality in particulate matter. We see the largest reductions in March (20% on average); April levels are less low (6% on average).”

The dynamic tracker which shows the impact of the coronavirus on electricity consumption and particulate pollution includes data not just for India but also, China, the United States among others.

Watch an explainer video of the tracker here: