Rising heat forces big growth in electricity demand

Though not, probably, for your future peace of mind in a warmer world. Image: By Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

As temperatures increase, rising heat will mean many power stations falter, leaving homes dark, chilly and short of energy.

LONDON, 13 January, 2021 − US scientists have identified a new anxiety for a world of heat extremes. As the thermometer climbs, they warn, the efficiency of thermal power plants will fall, as the rising heat makes it harder to keep the generators cool.

In a world in which billions of urban dwellers could be exposed to temperatures at the moment experienced in the Sahara desert and other  hotspots, and in which heat and humidity could reach potentially lethal  levels, the problems ahead for energy companies may seem of less consequence.

But rising city temperatures will inevitably be matched by ever-greater demand for electrically-driven air conditioning. And as air and water temperatures rise, and demand increases, turbines driven by coal, oil and gas combustion must, to operate efficiently, be cooled by air or water.

But if the air and water are warmer too, efficiency and then capacity could fall, by as much as 10%, causing periods when power suddenly becomes unavailable.

“We are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures”

And on the latest calculations, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, if global average temperatures increase by 2°C, then the number of outages on hot days could double.

In fact, global average temperatures have already climbed by more than 1°C, and could hit 1.5°C as early as 2027. Demand for air conditioning has already begun to affect US energy supplies.

“Our work demonstrates a harmful interaction between human adaptation and infrastructure vulnerability in a warming world,” said Ethan Coffel, a geographer at Syracuse University in New York, who led the research into the likely impacts of rising heat.

“As hot days become more frequent, people will want air conditioners to protect themselves from unpleasant and dangerous heat. But these air conditioners need electricity, which further increases the greenhouse emissions that drive global warming further.”

Big shortfall

And that puts a strain on the grid that distributes power around a nation. It also sets a challenge to those nations that have yet to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaic cells, and to phase out thermal generators.

“By the middle of the century we find that 100 to 200 additional average-sized global power plants could be required to make up for the electricity generating capacity lost due to heat,” Dr Coffel warned.

“Major progress has been made to reduce the cost of wind and solar power − these zero-carbon sources are now often cheaper than fossil fuels. So making the transition away from coal, oil and gas not only makes climate sense, but also economic sense.

“However, we are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures.” − Climate News Network