The Covid-19 outbreak has seen countries scrambling to provide economic relief packages to help people cope with the adverse economic impacts of the various forms of lockdown currently underway.
Potential economic losses are by no means minute. In early March, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) predicted that Covid-19 will lower global gross domestic product growth from 2.9 to 2.4%, while the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has predicted that the Covid-19 crisis will disproportionately hit developing countries.
But times of crisis seem to bring out the best in people, with even organisations – small and large – stepping up to help those in need. Going far beyond corporate social responsibility, these companies are doing their best to not only keep the lights, but also contribute to their respective communities in whatever way they can. Energy Watch highlights some of their key efforts to make the world a better place during the Covid-19 crisis:
Vietnam: Vietnam Electricity
As of March 30, Vietnam has officially announced 194 Covid-19 cases, with the highest numbers recorded in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. To support businesses amid this outbreak, the country’s Ministry of Industry and Trade has called for no increases in electricity prices until the end of the second quarter.
According to Vietnam News, power consumption from Vietnamese households have surged nationwide with people working from home or losing their jobs due to the pandemic. Moreover, households comprise 35% of the country’s total electricity consumption during this period.
Vietnam Electricity has proposed halving power bills of medical facilities
State-owned utility Vietnam Electricity (EVN) has proposed halving power bills of medical facilities that are examining, testing and treating patients suspected of having Covid-19. Hospitals, quarantine zones and hotels that are being used to battle Covid-19 will likely have their electricity bills waived for three months beginning April. According to a media report, the move is part of a proposal by EVN made on March 31 to allow electricity charge exemptions and reductions for some customers. The purpose is to ease the burdens of businesses while ensuring social security, the report said.
Malaysia: Tenaga Nasional Bhd
National utility provided, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) contributed RM10 million to Malaysia’s Ministry of Health to help the medical community in the country, where the first batch of essential medical supplies reached the Sungai Buloh hospital on March . On top of that initial amount, they have pledged an additional RM10 million worth of funds to be distributed to hospitals around the country. To contribute directly to each state’s fight against COVID-19, TNB had further allocated a total of RM17.5 million to be distributed to all states in Peninsula Malaysia, with each state receiving RM1 to RM2.5 million each.
Back in March, the Malaysian government introduced the Prihatin Rakyat Economic Stimulus Package (PRE) to support local businesses and its people. In line with the PRE, national utility provider Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) stepped up to provide electricity discounts to the latter’s industrial and residential customers. In a statement on its website, TNB said it is offering a six-month discount on monthly electricity bills (from April 1 to September 30 this year):
- 15% discount for the six sectors identified as being most affected by the impact of COVID-19 – hotels operators, travel agencies, local airlines offices, shopping malls, convention centers and theme parks.
- 2% discount to all commercial, industrial and specific agriculture excluding the 6 sectors mentioned above.
- Tiered discount between 2% – 50% for residential customers, based on total consumption
The total amount being discounted for all sectors over these 6 months is estimated to come up to RM1 billion. And it doesn’t just end with that. TNB has also suspended disconnections during the movement control order (MCO) period and has encouraged customers facing financial difficulties to engage with them in order to create a payment plan post-MCO. (Note: The movement control order was implemented nationwide in Malaysia as a preventive measure by the federal government towards the Covid-19 pandemic, beginning March 18).
With electricity a significant overhead for most small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the move by TNB should be a welcome relief. According to SME Corp Malaysia’s third quarter 2018 survey of SMEs, 56.4% of respondents cited higher operating costs, particularly among SMEs in manufacturing, construction and agriculture, as well as small and medium-sized firms. The respondents said higher electricity bills and charges made up 41% of the cost hike.
China: State Grid Corp. of China and China Southern Power Grid
China was one of the earliest countries in the Asia Pacific region to cut power costs to help struggling manufacturers in Beijing. The cuts were by two of its largest power distributors, namely the State Grid Corp. of China and China Southern Power Grid. They cut electricity rates for most of their business customers by about 5%, effective from February 1 and will run through June 30.
According to a media report, State Grid said that the 5% reduction would save its customers USD730 million, while Southern Power estimated its customers would save some USD1.04 billion.
This latest announcement is merely weeks after the Chinese authorities declared a similar policy earlier in March, which is aimed at providing relief to large industrial enterprises via electricity cost savings. That policy has been extended to end June, is expected to save State Grid’s customers another USD1.76 billion and Southern Power customers some USD450 million.
Australia: Energy Providers Answer Regulator’s Call
The Australian Energy Regulator on March 27 announced ten principles it expects energy businesses to adhere to ensure continued energy supply to households and businesses during the Covid-19 crisis. These include policies that stopping all service disconnection procedures, waiving service disconnection fees and designing payment plans for businesses that are facing financial hardship.
In fact, nearly all of the major electricity providers in Australia have answered the regulator’s call. These companies have hardship programmes that allow customers to tailor their payment plans so that they don’t experience service disconnection during the Covid-19 outbreak. Most providers have stepped up to offer energy relief to their customers, as with the following companies:
- Origin Energy has announced that it is prioritising assistance for its most vulnerable customers including those with life support needs, and those who need their energy supply reconnected. The company has also temporarily stopped all service disconnections.
- Energy Australia has an EnergyAssist programme for residential customers, which allows for tailored payment plans, provides advice on reducing energy consumption, provides information on relevant government relief schemes and concessions and ensuring cus tomers who are struggling to pay are on the best payment plans.
The full list of energy companies in Australia offering help to their customers is available here.
In addition, Australian energy providers such as AusNet are taking care of their employees’ welfare by using teleconferencing, offering them work from home options, and introducing a new category of leave for employees who cannot work from home.
North America, Europe and the UK
Similarly, utility providers in North America and Europe have taken steps to protect their workers. Take for instance, Portugal’s EDP, which has encouraged customers to use its digital services and closed many of its customer service outlets.
Belgium’s Fluvius has reassured customers facing supply issues that they will get help, but has asked residents to keep at a safe distance of 5 feet from their utility engineers.
But that’s not all, utility companies in North America for instance, have pledged financial help to Covid-19 relief efforts. Examples include Edison International, which has donated USD 1 million to community-based organisations helping California residents under economic hardship due to quarantines, illnesses or school closures.
In a statement on its website, Duke Energy said it has pledged USD 1.3 million in donations by The Duke Energy Foundation to support hunger relief and help local health and human services non-profits across its service territories, including those providing meals to children and families impacted by school closures.
The Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation has also come forward to lessen the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak, donating USD 1 million to aid nationwide relief efforts in the United States.
Utility providers have also stepped up communication efforts in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the UK, the National Grid’s Distribution and Renewable Energy President, Daniel Westerman, has taken to LinkedIn to share ideas on how his staff and colleagues can battle isolation as they work remotely. He has also encouraged staff to support each other and to reach out to him.
Meanwhile, Octopus Energy (also from the UK), has been consistently communicating its gratitude to the staff of the UK’s National Health Service by providing care packages and treats to staff.
Doing What’s Right
With all the efforts being made by the utility providers mentioned here, there is much for those in other countries to learn from and emulate. We hope that these initiatives will inspire corporations the world over to do what is right and help their people battle the Covid-19 pandemic.