Global warming could cause more California blackouts in the next decade

Speaker 1: (00:00)

In the whole world. Climate change is beginning to affect daily life, from devastating cyclones and Madagascar to firestorms in the Pacific Northwest. And a new report finds this all over the United States. As summers get hotter, beating the heat will deplete energy stores and leave us days without power or air conditioning. The research paper published in the online journal Earth’s Future predicts that Southern California will experience at least seven days without power each summer. In the next decade. I’m joined by the lead author of the studies, Renee Ober and an environmental engineer at Penn and Renee State University. Welcome to the

Speaker 2: (00:41)

Pro. Thank you. Thank you for.

Speaker 1: (00:43)

How about a 1.5 Celsius increase in global temperature and that equals 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. How would that strain California’s energy grid?

Speaker 2: (00:53)

Yeah, so, uh, a one-and-a-half degree Celsius rise is kind of across the world’s main temperature. And so depending on where, or even like, if there’s a heat wave, it could be, you know, even higher for California. And so what we’re seeing is that with these rising temperatures, California should see, uh, a 4% increase in air conditioning use beyond what it’s already doing and that if this happens during a heat wave or during wildfire season, it could actually lead to even more frequent power outages than we’ve seen in the past couple of years.

Speaker 1: (01:32)

How many days of continuous outages could there be in California under these circumstances?

Speaker 2: (01:39)

Our analysis therefore focused on the hypothetical situation where no changes are made to our current network. So it’s kind of the worst-case scenario. What happens if we don’t adapt to this warmer future? And we found that California could live about seven days, uh, without air conditioning under these, uh, potentially continuous outages, but also, uh, could be more outages beyond a few hours and lasting, you know, a day or two at a time.

Speaker 1: (02:09)

You also know that California has relatively high efficiency standards for home air conditioners. Tell us more about it.

Speaker 2: (02:19)

Yeah. So one of the potential ways to mitigate this, uh, surge in demand is to try to improve the efficiency of our technology. So when you increase the efficiency of air conditioners, you can use more air conditioning, you can use it more often, but it uses the same amount or even less electricity. And so we’re looking to see how much the standard air conditioner would need more efficient E in all states. And we found that with California, it’s less than 1% more efficient. So it’s almost, uh, negligible. And that’s probably because California leads the country in these requirements. So any new building and even some older buildings that are being retrofitted have to have a certain level of efficiency and that’s driving, uh, the market in California, where other states kind of lag behind in that regard. And so, uh, states, we found Louisiana and Arkansas up to 8% in average AC, while California, as I said, less than 1%.

Speaker 1: (03:24)

Now, when does your study predict summer power outages? As these would begin to occur.

Speaker 2: (03:30)

So that kind of period has a little, you know, wiggle room. Much depends on how quickly we can mitigate climate change. And if we continue Roof CO2, but the latest IPCC report estimates that we will exceed this threshold by one and a half degrees Celsius in 2030, so potentially within 10 to 15 years.

Speaker 1: (03:56)

And how does the scenario change if there is a two, two degree Celsius increase in warming?

Speaker 2: (04:02)

Yeah. So that’s actually what I think is one of the most interesting parts of this study is that with just half a degree more warming, we really see, uh, intense changes, in especially in areas like the Midwest. And so under one and a half degrees of warming, we’ve estimated a 4% increase in air conditioning use, but if we let climate change continue and we continue to emit to the point where we hit two degrees of warming, then in the Midwest, the demand for air conditioning increases by 13%. And so we triple the amount of range we see in just half a degree. And so it’s really kind of, to me, it’s a reminder of the importance of trying to mitigate the temperature and trying to maintain a lower temperature threshold because we’re going to start seeing results more and more extremes, uh, minor temperature changes as we continue to warm,

Speaker 1: (05:07)

What would be the human toll of these summer days without electricity?

Speaker 2: (05:12)

Yeah. So it’s hard to quantify that, but what we do know is that when we really have extreme heat, the most vulnerable populations tend to be in low-income neighborhoods or seniors or even, uh , other marginalized groups who have traditionally lived in areas with poor housing, or who generally don’t have the financial ability to buy air conditioning or find another place like a hotel or, uh, a swimming pool where they can cool off during these heat waves. So while it’s really hard to quantify what that might mean in exact numbers, what we do know is that even though the average household can live, you know, eight days without air conditioning, in reality the weight of this situation will be borne by our vulnerable or marginalized communities while others may find other places to go.

Speaker 1: (06:12)

Like you say, some people in, uh, low-income communities might not even have air conditioning to begin with. And as the heat rises, people can die.

Speaker 2: (06:24)

Yeah. So it’s becoming, uh, a very serious public health issue. And that too, that, and it gets really hard to calculate that like heat deaths, heat waves, heat intensity is probably very underestimated because it’s really hard to figure out, you know, was it the heat or was it, you know, another comorbidity that they often had due to, you know, no fault of their own, just where they live and whether or not we can attribute that to the heat or

Speaker 1: (06:59)

Not. Renée, what does this study require? Call for increased efforts to stop global warming or stronger energy networks to meet increased demand.

Speaker 2: (07:10)

It’s both. And so what we really want is part of our goal in sort of looking at air conditioning usage at the household level, but also trying to look across the United States to compare different states is to try to demonstrate that these changes, these impacts of climate change will have an impact on local populations as they will have an impact on yourself, your family and your neighbours. And so we’re hoping that if we can show tangible impacts, like impacts on how it might affect you, rather than something abstract that’s off in the distant future, that we could generate more of that as an effort of grassroots and, and trying to push through a policy to not only, uh, mitigate climate change and reduce our emissions, but also strengthen our grid because we can’t just rely on one or the other. We have to adapt, but also work on mitigation at the same time.

Speaker 1: (08:06)

I spoke with Renee OER and environmental engineer at Penn State University. Renee. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Teresa H. Sadler