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Building energy use in COVID-19 lockdowns: did much change?

24 November, 2023

Building energy use in COVID-19 lockdowns: did much change?

Frances Hollick

Tadj Oreszczyn

Cliff Elwell

Gesche Huebner

Research paper | PreprintBuildings & Energy

Frances Hollick, Dominic Humphrey, Tadeusz Oreszczyn, Cliff Elwell, and Gesche Huebner


The UK national lockdowns introduced to prevent the spread of COVID-19 had huge impacts on daily lives, as people were largely confined to their homes. It could be expected that residential energy use would drastically increase while non-residential decreased, however the picture is not so clear. In this paper three complementary datasets on different scales are used to explore changes in building energy use during two national lockdowns (spring 2020 and winter 2021): the complete building stock of Great Britain, a sample of ~1000 residential buildings, and a sample of ~24,000 residential boilers. Energy signature analysis was used for the building data to estimate the changes in energy consumption for space heating and otherwise, with the boiler data able to separate space and water heating and explore changes in these. In the 2020 lockdown residential energy consumption for water heating and appliances increased, with decreased use for heating, resulting in a reduction in total energy use during the heating season. In the 2021 lockdown total energy consumption changed little, however a decrease in the use of gas space heating was observed. These residential changes counteracted any non-domestic changes, resulting in little difference in national energy consumption.

Policy relevance: The impacts on national energy consumption of increased time spent at home provide important context for the pursuit of net zero targets, particularly with the rise in flexible working seen since 2020. That little change was seen overall is likely due to the energy use in non-domestic buildings not decreasing proportionately to their decrease in use during national lockdowns, and thus more automated switch-off services could be crucial in producing benefit from increased working from home. The finding that drastic changes were not made to heating behaviours could have implications for future demand side response schemes, indicating either that occupants are happy to adapt to less comfortable conditions at home, or conversely that their heating behaviours are too habitual to willingly alter them

Publication details

Hollick, F., Humphrey, D., Oreszczyn, T., Elwell, C. and Huebner, G. 2023. Building energy use in COVID-19 lockdowns: did much change? OSF Preprints doi: 10.31219/ in a new tab Open access

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