The heat is on, and climate change will put significant strain on the US power grid – unless we do something about it.
In the absence of any concrete new policy proposals coming out of the not-so-green White House, we figured we would write about something we know even more about – research! Patrick Baylis, Catie Hausman, and I have a new paper out today in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS), which is of utmost relevance to this blog. It combines Max’s three favorite topics: climate change, electricity, and lots of data.
Humans do not like heat. There is ample evidence that when it’s hot outside, more people die, we are unhappier, air quality decreases, we become more aggressive and violent, less productive and our cognitive ability decreases. In order to offset these effects, we seek cool environments. Lakes, shade, and, over the past century, the air conditioned indoor space. Movie theatres these days are so cold, you can just bring a bucket of sugary cream and you’ll have ice cream by the time the trailers are done. Supermarket, shopping malls, server farms, packing plants, and most homes are air conditioned.
In most of the U.S., electricity usage spikes in the summer when it’s really hot outside. Alan Barreca and coauthors have shown that the rollout of air conditioning has led to massive decreases in heat related mortality over the past century. While we use some electricity to run our heating systems in the winter, in most of the country, air conditioning uses more electricity. And so it’s no surprise that rising temperatures from climate change are expected to lead to increased electricity demand.
The question that arises is just how much. Lucas has a nice paper on residences in Mexico and finds that we expect massive increases there. In the US, the literature has been relatively sparse. There are few papers on the commercial and industrial sectors.
And importantly, producing electricity at peak times is much more expensive than at non-peak times. If we need to expand generating capacity enough to allow for one more large window unit air conditioner to run at the system peak demand, the upfront cost of that additional power plant (or share thereof) in California is roughly $900. That number nearly knocked my air conditioned socks off.
In the PNAS paper released today we impose end of century climate on today’s economy and grid. We highlight that climate change would cause electricity demand to increase disproportionately at times when the grid is already stressed. A lot of the previous research has focused on the impact of climate change on the *typical* day in a year, finding moderate increases in demand over the next 100 years. We show that it’s also important to factor in the impact on the highest-usage days — when we show that electricity demand will increase even more.
Read more at Climate Change Costs: Have the Risks to Our Grid Peaked?