US electricity grid: Climate change is becoming expensive

More consumption due to the summer heat in the future requires expensive investments in the electricity grid

The hotter the summers are, the higher the electricity consumption for air conditioning systems and the like - and brings power grids to their limits. © digihanger / pixabay
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Expensive retrofitting: If US President Donald Trump does not join in climate protection, he could bring his country some extra costs. Because of the warming and especially the hotter summer, the power consumption in the US will increase significantly, as researchers have determined. In order to cope with peak loads, 70 to 180 billion US dollars must be invested in the electricity grids by the year 2100, according to the warming, the scientists were.

Even though US President Donald Trump does not think much of climate protection, global warming has long since become noticeable in the US: heat waves, droughts and forest fires are already piling up in many parts of the country, with almost all US forest areas causing climate damage. In addition, the US is one of the regions more affected by warming and extreme summer heat than the global average.

Increased consumption by air conditioners

The increasing summer heat also has consequences for the power supply: because on hot days more air conditioners and other cooling devices run, the power consumption skyrockets - and can burden the power grids enormously. How high this load for the power grids of the United States could turn out and whether these have grown, have now been investigated by Maximilian Auffhammer from the University of California at Berkeley and his colleagues.

For their study, the researchers first determined how the peak load and the average power consumption in 166 zones of the US change with the local weather. As it turned out, there is an almost linear relationship above 21 degrees Celsius: the warmer a day, the more the peak load and average power consumption increase.

In the next step, researchers translated this relationship into predictive models with a moderate (RCP4.5) and an unchecked climate change scenario (RCP8.5). In doing so, they determined how the weather-related current load will develop by the end of the century. display

Changes in the daily peak load in US electricity grids in the climate scenario RCP8.8 until the end of this century Auffhammer et al. / PNAS

Peak load rises to 18 percent

The result: in both scenarios, increasingly hot days are causing an increased load on the US electricity grid. Above all the daily peak loads rise significantly more strongly than previously assumed, as the researchers report: In the moderate warming scenario, peak loads rise by seven percent, in business as usual Scenario even by 18 percent.

This will be particularly noticeable in the south of the USA. In the northwest, there might even be a slight decline in average electricity consumption, because in the future there will be less need for electricity for heating in the winter. However, this effect is not sufficient to compensate for the overall higher consumption, as the scientists explain.

Expensive investment needed

In any case, this means that the US electricity grid is reaching its capacity limits as a result of the coming peak loads. If the power grid is to cope with these future pressures, then investments are indispensable, the researchers say. According to their estimates, an increase in network capacity by seven percent would cost around $ 70 billion. Assuming that peak consumption levels rise to 18 percent, the cost would be as high as $ 180 billion.

On the US electricity companies this comes to a lot of costs. "This means that the values ​​found so far in the literature substantially underestimate the true costs of the electricity sector, " say the scientists. And even their values ​​are probably still too low. Because the additional consumption due to the growth of the population and the economy as it is quite likely they have not taken into account in their scenarios. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; doi: 10.1073 / pnas.1613193114)

(PNAS, 07.02.2017 - NPO)