Social distancing (SD) is one of the main policies in response to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). People spend more time indoors due to this policy. However, such a behavior change can vary in different social groups due to their socioeconomic conditions. This study examines the relationship among SD policy, socioeconomic factors, and building electricity energy use before–after the COVID-19 outbreak in Seoul to reveal the impacts of the city SD policy on residential daily behaviors. Using a panel model, the study found that among the three SD levels in Seoul, SD levels 2 and 2.5 had a significantly positive effect on building electricity energy use, whereas SD level 1 had no significant influence. This result is in line with the observation that people have more at-home activities and more residential electricity energy uses when a high level of SD restrictions was announced. The findings with the interaction term variables provide a deep understanding of how the SD policy changed the electricity energy use patterns of different social groups, where the unequal impact of SD policy on residential behavior can be inferred. Particularly, expensive apartments had more electricity energy use increase, and apartments with more elderly people tended to have less increase when SD level 2 was applied compared with the period without SD policy, suggesting that high income changed their daily behavior more greatly, whereas the elderly had the opposite response. This study provides new evidence from the perspective of building energy to inform policymakers on how the SD policy affects the residential daily behaviors and building energy use for different social groups. Such information sets the basis for a more comprehensive evaluation of the current SD policy and proposals of future post-COVID-19 recovery policy.
Keywords Pandemic response, Building energy, Socio-economic groups, Panel analysis, Residential behavior, Policy evaluation