Refuge from the sweltering heat doesn’t come for free. We all know that beating the heat can cost a pretty penny in air-conditioning, and most of us tend to shell out a few more when it gets too toasty.
The amount of energy needed to keep us cool is already costly, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get cheaper anytime soon. A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America projects that climate change will have a significant impact on energy costs over the next century because rising temperatures will create a higher demand for air-conditioning, reports Seeker. Researchers affiliated with the University of Michigan, the University of California, Berkeley, Stanford University, and the University of British Columbia conducted the research.
It’s quite simple: when the temperatures rise, we use more air-conditioning. When we use more air conditioning, we use more energy. Our current electrical grid system in the United States simply doesn’t have the capacity to produce the amount of energy that it's projected we’ll need to stay cool. This is especially true of peak energy use on the hottest days of the year. If our current system can’t handle the heat, then we have to think about revamping the current system. The utilities costs needed to create a system that can keep up with both average and peak energy use could be anywhere between $70 and $180 billion, according to the study.
Testing the capacity of the grid
The researchers studied the 166 load balancing zones in various regions throughout the country. These are areas that are examined by regulators to determine whether or not the grid is able to handle the maximum amount of energy needed at given times. The researchers then did the math to find the correlation between energy and temperature in each region. Once the calculations were complete, the researchers then plugged the numbers into two different simulated climate scenarios.
One is the "business-as-usual" scenario — meaning a situation in which carbon emissions continue to rise as projected. The other scenario is one in which carbon emissions are curbed, and we attempt to maintain the stabilization of carbon emissions output. Costs of both average energy load use and peak load use were examined in each scenario. In both situations — average or peak usage aside — we could still see a serious increase in energy costs.
If we make a concerted effort to fight carbon emissions, we could experience an increase in energy demands by 2.8 percent on the average day, and 7.2 percent during peak days. If we continue down the road we're on, the numbers elevate dramatically. With no effort to mitigate climate change, the peak usage demand could rise by 18 percent. That’s where the exorbitant prices come in. No matter the situation, the costs will be high. Even if we can keep carbon emissions under control, the costs to execute a successful grid rebuild would be around $70 billion. In order to handle the 18 percent spike in peak energy demand under the carbon emissions status quo, we’d have to cough up the $180 billion.
"This means that climate change adaptation is going to be more expensive than we thought,” Catherine Housman, study co-author and assistant professor at University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, told University of Michigan News.
There’s no need to panic yet, but these cost projections are something we need to think about when preparing for future climate change.
“We’re not trying to say this is the future scenario,” says Housman “We’re saying, ‘If the future climate were here now, what would need to happen to the grid to adapt to that warmer world?’”