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Due to climate change, residential air conditioning consumption in the United States may surpass electric capacity in the next decade


When the world average temperature rises by 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, summer air conditioning demand is predicted to rise by 8% in the United States. According to a recent assessment of household-level demand, this climate-driven rise is expected to result in protracted blackouts during peak summer heat if governments do not boost capacity or improve efficiency.

According to a recent analysis of household-level demand, climate change will drive a rise in summer air conditioning consumption in the United Governments, which would likely result in protracted blackouts during peak summer heat if states do not expand capacity or improve efficiency.

Summertime usage could increase by 8% in the United States if global temperatures rise 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) or 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, according to the study, with demand rising by 13% at the lower and 13% at the higher thresholds. The new research was published in Earth’s Future, an AGU magazine dedicated to multidisciplinary research on our planet’s history, present, and future.

According to the IPCC’s 2021 assessment, human emissions have placed the global climate on track to rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by the early 2030s. Global temperatures will most certainly surpass the 2.0-degree Celsius barrier by the end of the century unless major mitigation is implemented.

Previous studies have looked at the effects of rising future temperatures on yearly power consumption or daily peak loads in particular cities or states. The new analysis is the first to predict domestic air conditioning demand at a large scale on a household basis. It combines actual and expected air temperature, heat, humidity, and discomfort indices with air conditioning usage by statistically representative homes in the contiguous United States from 2005 to 2019, as gathered by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

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The new research anticipated changing consumption based only on climate change, and did not take into account potential population growth, changes in wealth, behavior, or other recognized variables that impact air conditioning demand.

Renee Obringer, an environmental engineer at Penn State University and the study’s primary author, stated, “We wanted to isolate solely the influence of climate change.” “What would it imply if nothing changes, if we, as a society, refuse to adapt, if we don’t meet the efficiency demands?”

According to the new study, technological advancements in the efficiency of home air conditioning appliances could provide the additional cooling required to maintain current comfort levels after a 2.0 degree global temperature rise without increasing electricity demand. Depending on current state requirements and predicted demand increases, increased efficiency of 1% to 8% would be necessary, with Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma on the high end.

“It’s a fairly strong message to all of us that if we keep doing what we’re doing, our energy system will break down in the next few decades,” said Susanne Benz, a geographer and climate scientist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, who was not involved in the new research.

Capacity exceeded

During heat waves, the most air conditioning is used, putting the electricity system at danger of overloading. Heat waves also pose the greatest health risk. During heat waves, electricity production also tends to be below peak, further limiting capacity, according to Obringer.

Electricity companies may have to arrange rolling blackouts during heat waves if they don’t have the capacity to fulfill demand, like California’s energy providers did in August 2020 during a protracted spell of record heat with temperatures surpassing 117 degrees Fahrenheit.

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“We’ve already seen this in California, where state power providers had to impose blackouts due to a shortage of available energy,” Obringer added. The state put the death toll at 599, but the real figure might be closer to 3,900.

According to Obringer, the repercussions of cascading electrical grid failures are expected to affect already vulnerable communities first, such as low-income, non-white, and elderly citizens.

“When they say you won’t have air conditioning for two weeks on average, they’re kidding. Some individuals will have air conditioning. People who are less fortunate will have less cooling “Benz said.

Differences between regions

The most significant increases in kilowatt-hours of power use, according to the latest analysis, will occur in the already hot south and southwest. If all Arizona houses increased their air conditioning usage by the projected 6% required at 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, which equates to 30 kilowatt-hours per month, the electricity system would face an extra 54.5 million kilowatt-hours of demand monthly.

Midwestern states are likely to have some of the biggest percentage increases above present demand, putting a strain on the region’s energy capacity. According to Obringer, an increase in world temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius to 2.0 degrees Celsius might quadruple demand in Indiana and Ohio, emphasizing the significance of mitigation to avoid temperature rises.

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