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Climate change could lead to US households using more air conditioning than electric power in the next decade.

Climate change could lead to US households using more air conditioning than electric power in the next decade.

US household air conditioning use could exceed electric capacity in next decade due to climate change

US household air conditioning use could exceed electric capacity in next decade due to climate change
The United States has the highest household air conditioning usage. Bar graphs display the predicted change in household kilowatt hours as global climate rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius (blue), and 2.0 degrees Celsius(pink) above preindustrial temperatures averages. States that are darker than the map of the contiguous United States used more air conditioning in the baseline period 2005-2019. The baseline air conditioning consumption per household in the contiguous United States is shown as grey shading on the map. This data is from 2005 to 2019. Credit: Obringer et al 2021 The Future of Earth, DOI: 10.1029/2021EF002434

According to a new study on household-level demand, climate change will cause an increase in US summer air conditioning use. This will likely lead to prolonged blackouts during peak heat.


The study showed that summertime use would rise as the global temperature rises by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), or 2.0 degrees Celsius (3.66 degrees Fahrenheit). This is in line with the prediction that the overall demand for electricity in the United States could rise by 8% at the lower threshold and 13% at higher levels. The study was published in The Future of EarthAGU’s journal for interdisciplinary research about the past, present, and future of our planet, and its inhabitants.

According to the IPCC’s 2021 assessment, human emissions have caused the global climate to rise 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. Global temperatures will likely rise to 2.0 degrees Celsius without significant mitigation by the end of this century.

Previous research has looked at the impact of higher future temperatures upon annual electricity consumption and daily peak loads for specific cities or states. This new study is the first to address residential. At a large scale, demand is measured on a household basis. It includes the observed and predicted air temperature, heat, humidity, and discomfort indices for air conditioning use by statistically representative household across the contiguous United States. This data was collected by the U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2005-2019.

The new study only projected changes in usage due to climate influence. It did not consider population growth, changes in behavior, or other factors that could affect air conditioning demand.

“We tried only to isolate the impact “Yes,” Renee Obringer (an environmental engineer at Penn State University) and the lead author of this study said. “If we refuse to adapt, if our society doesn’t meet the efficiency demands, then nothing will change.”

The new study found that technological improvements in the efficiency and comfort of home air conditioners could provide the additional cooling required to maintain current comfort levels even after 2.0 degrees global temperature rise. This is without increasing the demand for electricity. Based on state standards and expected demand increases, an increase in efficiency of 1%-8% would be necessary. Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Arkansas are the highest.

“It’s a clear warning to us all that we can no longer do what we’re doing or our…” “The summertime air conditioning will cause the cooling system to fail in the next few years,” Susanne Benz, a Halifax-based climate scientist and geographer, said that the cooling system would eventually break down.

US household air conditioning use could exceed electric capacity in next decade due to climate change
For a climate 2.0 degrees Celsius warmer, darker grey states will require more technical improvements in cooling efficiency. Blue bars show the number of households without air conditioning in each state or region. They are also represented on the map as pie charts. This is assuming that power supply air conditioner efficiency remains at current levels. Credit: Obringer et al 2021 Earth’s Future, DOI: 10.1029/2021EF002434

Exceeding capacity

The heaviest air conditioning use with the greatest risk for overloading the power grid comes during heat waves, which also present the highest risk to health. Electricity generation tends to be below peak during heat waves as well, further reducing capacity, Obringer said.

Without enough capacity to meet demand, energy utilities may have to stage rolling blackouts during heat waves to avoid grid failure, like California’s energy providers did in August 2020 during an extended period of record heat sometimes topping 117 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’ve seen this in California already—state power suppliers had to institute blackouts because they couldn’t provide the needed electricity,” Obringer said. The state attributed 599 deaths to the heat, but the true toll may have been closer to 3,900.

The consequences of cascading electrical grid failures are likely to impact already vulnerable populations, including low income, non-white and older residents, first, Obringer noted.

“When they say there’s going to be two weeks where you don’t have cooling on average—in reality, some people will have cooling. Disadvantaged people will have less cooling,” Benz said.

Regional differences

The new study predicted the largest increases in kilowatt-hours of in the already hot south and southwest. If all Arizona households were to increase air conditioning use by the estimated 6% needed at 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming, for example, amounting to 30 kilowatt-hours per month, this would place an additional 54.5 million kilowatt-hours of demand on the power grid monthly.

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Some of the highest percentage increases over current demand can be expected in Midwestern states, which could strain energy capacity in the region. The added demand of rise from 1.5 degrees Celsius to 2.0 degrees Celsius could triple demand in Indiana and Ohio, underlining the importance of mitigation to limit , Obringer said.


Measuring climate change: It’s not just heat, it’s humidity


More information:
Renee Obringer et al, Implications of Increasing Household Air Conditioning Use Across the United States Under a Warming Climate, The Future of Earth (2021). DOI: 10.1029/2021EF002434

Citation:
Climate change could lead to US households using more air conditioning than electric in the next decade (2022, February 3).
Retrieved 3 February 20, 222.
from https://phys.org/news/2022-02-household-air-conditioning-electric-capacity.html

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