Increased Air Conditioning Use Could Exhaust Power Supply in 2030s

Increased Air Conditioning Use Could Exhaust Power Supply in 2030s

Global warming is threatening the nation's power infrastructure, according to a new study. If the U.S. grid doesn't improve, states across the country will experience rolling blackouts, like California's in Aug. 2020, or prolonged outages like those in Texas in Feb. 2021. If by the early 2030s the global average temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, researchers project an 8% increase in summer air conditioning demand. This would in turn increase stress on the power grid and mean that Californians would be without AC an average of 6.8 days per year. In Missouri, the count is 13.9 days without AC, and 13.5 for Illinois.

Why This Matters

The world is getting hotter and hotter. According to NOAA, last summer was the hottest in the US in the 126 years since records started. And in June, Europe experienced its warmest month in 171 years. Meanwhile, another study showed that in 2021, Earth's oceans reached the highest temperatures in recorded history.

This warming can have fatal consequences: a Los Angeles Times investigation revealed that extreme heat likely caused 3,900 deaths in California over the previous decade, and that the consequences of extreme heat disproportionately affect the poor and communities of color. Extremely hot days without AC could cause thousands of deaths, so finding more sustainable ways to cool our living spaces is a top priority.

CNBC: How Air Conditioning Is Warming The World, July 24, 2021.

How Do We Keep Cool?

The authors of the new study on AC and infrastructure suggest improving air conditioning efficiency to balance out the increased demand during heatwaves. But some states will need to do more than others to reach a level of efficiency sufficient for a 2-degree Celsius rise in temperatures. California would only require a 0.7% increase in efficiency, while Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma would require 7.8%.

Susanne Benz, a geographer and climate scientist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, wrote in a statement: "It's a pretty clear warning to all of us that we can't keep doing what we are doing or our energy system will break down in the next few decades, simply because of the summertime air conditioning."

The Economist: How to cool a warming world, November 12, 2021.