Electricity plays a critical role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.  It is an essential service that powers hospital, homes, and businesses. In the long run, provision of reliable and affordable power will play a key role in the immense economic recovery that will be needed in the wake of the pandemic.

In the short run, the current economic downturn has both lowered electricity demand and reduced many people’s ability to pay their bills. This has disrupted cashflows in electricity systems across the globe. Transmission and distribution sectors have been particularly negatively impacted, due to challenges related to metering, billing, and collections. Many utilities are now struggling to continue providing quality service, while not being compensated.

To mitigate the effects of decreasing revenues on electricity service providers from reduced demand and lower cash collection, governments are working closely with industry to create policies and recommendations that will enable the continued operation of power utilities. In some emerging economies, international finance institutions (IFIs) have also begun offering much needed support in the form of cash assistance and debt relief.

Castalia is tracking how governments and utilities in seven of the countries we work in are collaborating in response to COVID-19. Table 1 below summarizes the responses:

Table 1.  Utility responses to COVID-19

Across the board, governments and utilities have boosted efforts to increase flexibility in billing and collections. In the developed countries we analyzed, governments have either encouraged or mandated utilities to provide the option of installment plans or payment deferrals for customers who are struggling financially. In contrast, some governments in developing countries have taken a more radical approach of paying the electricity bills of the poorest customer groups. This protection of the most impoverished is laudable but could create additional fiscal strain on some of these governments.

Another almost universal trend we noticed was that distribution companies (discos) and retailers are suspending disconnections for customers who cannot afford to pay their electricity bills. The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has explicitly barred retailers from disconnecting any residential or small business customers. A similar order was announced by the Tripura Electricity Regulatory Commission (TERC), but it is the only explicit regulatory mandate in India. However, this New Zealand is the only country we studied that still allows disconnections. However, the Electricity Authority (EA) has strongly encouraged retailers to only pursue this action as a last resort.

Governments and IFIs have also been stepping up financial and fiscal support. We observed that developed countries have implemented lighter fiscal intervention compared to developing countries. For example, Australia and New Zealand have slightly loosened restrictions on debt owed by electricity sector participants. Interest on debt owed is not accruing in Australia and retailers in New Zealand have an additional 60 days to repay debt obligations. Conversely, Brazil has introduced a US$400 million power sector liquidity fund and the Ghanaian Government approved a GHS$1 billion (~US$170 million) electricity sector relief package. For Madagascar, some fiscal relief has been provided by the IMF, through a US$166 million disbursement through the Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) and six months of debt service relief from the Catastrophe Containment Relief Fund (CCRF).

With the end of the pandemic not yet within sight, and a massive global economic recession looming, we believe that governments and IFIs will continue to play a critical role to ensure that utilities are able to deliver electricity while managing significant cashflow shortages.

We will continue to track developments in the countries we work in and share them on this blog.

Authors: Lisa Tessier, Will Mulhern, Gianmarco Servetti


Sources for Table 1

Australia, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, Energy Network, Government of Australia

Brazil, IJGlobal, Reuters, Reuters, KPMG, ANEEL

Ghana, BBC, Pulse, AllAfrica, ECG

India, Bloomberg, IW, Contact Center, Mercom, The Economic Times, The Free Press Journal

Indonesia, Jakarta Post, Jakarta Post, Jakarta Post, Reuters

Madagascar, Midi, IMF

New Zealand, Government of New Zealand, Electricity Authority

Clive Harrison has updated his spreadsheet-based pandemic model that was posted on this blog on April 22.


I had a problem with the daily mortality data for Sweden last week, it became very irregular and it looked as though there was a weekly dip in daily deaths. This didn’t make any sense and then I found this article with a link to some new data from the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, which seems to be better prepared. Thus this update includes two worksheets for Sweden, one the new NBHW calibration data and the other with the data on the EU website that I had been using and I have used for all the other countries I have had a go at modelling (Canada, USA, UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France and Germany).
The Swedish model gives a mortality rate of 0.026%, so very much lower than most published estimates, and there is simply no other way to explain the daily time series of reported deaths. That implies a very large number of unreported cases everywhere. The NBHW notes that it expects that the number of deaths is likely to increase slightly as they get better data from around the country, and it seems that in most places there is at least anecdotal evidence of unreported deaths due to COVID, for various reasons. Thus I have calibrated to envelope the shape of the calibration data for each country, with some excess over the number of reported deaths.
I thought I should do some sensitivity for my main (and probably unknowable) unknown, the average number of days that infected people are infectious to others.My initial guess was 10 days, so I also tried 7 and 14 days. I also added the actual dates when distancing measures were introduced and tried to match those too (not always successfully). The table below shows how things turned out, and I am attaching all the corresponding spreadsheets. Overall it seems to have worked well, but calibration was easier for the 10-day infectious period than for the other two, so I think the true value is likely be around 10 days. You will see that Spain and Italy have the highest mortality rates by far, and Germany the lowest.
I think that the good news is that current phase of the epidemic will be over quite quickly now, but with most of the population having been infected and no data yet on the duration of any resistance they may have acquired. The large number of unreported cases means that most people are resistant anyway, at least to the current strains of the virus. That doesn’t apply to countries that have managed to control the outbreak, like New Zealand, Iceland, Taiwan, South Korea and, maybe, Singapore. Whereas, come the Summer, almost everyone in Europe and North America will have been infected and recovered, so the need for travel restrictions should disappear (never mind the US pause in issuing Green Cards), these countries will have to maintain strict quarantine and testing regimes for everyone entering the country, to prevent new infections.


Download the updated model here.


Water providers are on the front line fighting COVID19. Everyone needs water for hand-washing. People who are locked down or self-isolating need water at home. Yet in many places, water supply arrangements create risk. Groups gathered around a standpipe or water kiosk can quickly spread infection. So can water vendors going door to door. Water utility staff need protection from infection, in customer service offices, and when working with colleagues on operations and maintenance. Even worse, as economies grind to a halt, customers stop paying their bills. Without cash coming in, how can utilities pay salaries, and for the electricity that keeps the water pumping, and for the chemicals that make it safe?

To help utilities see clearly in this maelstrom of risk, we’ve created a Risk Identification Checklist. It delineates between risk categories: risks for communities that rely on water vendors, risks for those who use standpipes, risks for other customer groups, and finally risks that threaten a water utility’s overall ability to function. With this simple checklist, a utility or government can quickly identify where its big risks are—which is the first step in planning to respond to them. Please use this checklist. Let us know if it’s helpful. Please suggest improvements. Finally, if you need help in planning your response to the risks, let us know too – we may be able to help.

Risk Identification Checklist

Author: David Ehrhardt

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WASHINGTON, DC
+1 (202) 466-6790
1747 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Suite 1200
United States of America

SYDNEY
+61 (2) 9231 6862
Suite 19.01, Level 19, 227 Elizabeth Street
Australia

AUCKLAND
+64 (4) 913 2800
74D France Street, Newton South
New Zealand

WELLINGTON
+64 (4) 913 2800
Level 2, 88 The Terrace
New Zealand

PARIS
+33 (1) 73 44 26 97
6 Rue Duret
France

BOGOTÁ
+57 (1) 508 5794
Calle 81 #11-08, Piso 5, Oficina 5-127
Colombia

Thinking for a better world.

Castalia-logo-negative-2col
PROJECTS        NEWS        BLOG        CONTACT
© Copyright 2019 Castalia. All rights reserved.
Terms | Privacy | Credits | Sitemap