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US could face blackouts due to domestic AC use

USA: Household air conditioning use in the USA could exceed electric capacity in the next decade due to climate change and lead to summer blackouts, a new report claims.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU), a group of earth, atmospheric, ocean, hydrologic, space, and planetary scientists and enthusiasts, has calculated that average US households can expect up to eight days without air conditioning during summer heat if steps are not taken to expand capacity, increase efficiency and mitigate climate change.

The study projected summertime usage as global temperature rises 1.5ºC (2.7ºF) or 2ºC (3.6ºF) above pre-industrial levels, finding demand in the United States overall could rise 8% at the lower and 13% at the higher threshold. 

The new study is published in Earth’s Future, AGU’s journal for interdisciplinary research on the past, present and future of our planet and its inhabitants. 

Technological improvements in the efficiency of home air conditioning appliances could supply the additional cooling needed to achieve current comfort levels after 2ºC global temperature rise without increased demand for electricity, the new study found. Increased efficiency of 1% to 8% would be required, depending on existing state standards and the expected demand increase, with Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma on the high end. 


The study maintains that without enough capacity to meet demand during heat waves, energy utilities may have to stage rolling blackouts to avoid grid failure.

“We’ve seen this in California already—state power suppliers had to institute blackouts because they couldn’t provide the needed electricity,” said Renee Obringer, an environmental engineer at Penn State University and lead author of the new study.

California’s energy providers had to institute blackouts during an extended period of record heat in August 2020, when temperatures sometimes topped 117ºF (47ºC). The state is said to have attributed 599 deaths to the heat, but the true toll may have been closer to 3,900, the study says.  

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 global temperature rise from 1.5ºC to 2ºC could triple demand in Indiana and Ohio. 

The report is free to read and download here.

Darker grey states will need larger technical improvements in cooling efficiency to offset increased demand in a climate that is 2ºC warmer (percentage in black numerals). Blue bars compare the number of household-days without air conditioning by state or region, also represented as pie charts on the map, if power supply air conditioner efficiency remain at current levels.
Credit: Obringer et al 2021 Earth’s Future

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