Climate Change And Extreme Temperatures To Stretch Power Utilities Like Nothing Before: Study

Highlights :

  • By 2050, utilities worldwide will face unprecedented demands to keep cool, and warm, as the case may be. A New Study has put a number on that.
  • Cooling is clearly an area that demands high focus, considering the high energy demands here, especially for countries at the frontlines of climate change like India.

As more cooling is installed and as home heat gets decarbonized, hampering the grid, global utilities will need to lay on more than 1,500 TWh in fresh power resources – collectively about the same amount of electricity that India supplies to its 1 billion citizens, finds a new report by Rethink Energy.

The report is significant as it tries to put real figures in terms of TWh regarding an upcoming problem: global warming might break the grid as more and more people buy air conditioning.

There are twin problems that must be solved in the same time frame – shifting home heating from the wood, coal and gas fossil fuels which they rely on today to renewables, at the same time as we accommodate soaring temperatures which immobilize workforces in the struggle for national competitiveness.

This report entitled “Warming and Cooling: Double Whammy for the Grid; Forecast transition to 2050,” attempts to put this problem into perspective for the 21 countries which represent about 84% of global electricity today, and shows which ones will be able to both decarbonize and keep their citizens comfortable.

It shows that countries like the UK, Italy, South Korea and Japan will be hit hardest, trying to convert their total reliance on natural gas into new resources that start as renewables and are delivered through the existing grid.

The world’s electricity supply is already expected to more than double from 24,000 TWh to 43,000 TWh per annum just keeping up with economic growth. When we add in a shift to electric vehicles and the mass decarbonization of industry, this leaps to more than 50,000 TWh and many of these countries will also have to find a further 15% to decarbonize heating and keep up with air conditioning.

This report deals entirely with “affordable” electricity spending, keeping it within the limits of what individual homes will choose to spend, not spending that is funded by fantasy improvements in the economies of developing nations, which may, or may not happen.

“Consumers in Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania, are not the problem here – we agree wholeheartedly that these countries will face a massive problem with global warming – but these economies can only begin to address it through electricity once their economic wealth gives rise to stronger grids, with cheaper and more reliable power,” notes the report. These countries will pay the price of global warming, in the sweat and discomfort of their workforces, but because they are unlikely to be included in huge grid growth, they have not been included in the report.

While there are a few exceptions in Vietnam and parts of India, the assumption that the Western Sahara and regions like it will suddenly develop an entirely new grid, with fresh generation resources in the next 30 years, and then choose to waste much of that resource on air conditioning, is clearly false and we have tried to keep this report grounded in what will actually, inevitably happen, and not delve into a fantasy long-term 2100 timeframe, argues the report.

In climates which swing wildly from hot to cold, electricity customers will choose to spend similar amounts on cooling, as they do on heating. These amounts vary quite a lot based on how prosperous their economies are, how widely spread their middle classes are, what percentage of the country actually has electricity, and how extreme the temperatures are and whether or not electricity is subsidized, cheap as a percentage of household incomes.

While the report’s authors anticipate that many countries already have a nascent requirement for cooling, they have only included countries where the average citizen can afford air conditioning systems and afford an extra slice of their monthly budgets for electricity.

As the planet warms, more and more countries will fall into that category of needing to spend on both heating at one point during the year and then spending on cooling during another.

In conclusion, this report tries to identify which countries have the biggest problems, where will people simply choose to suffer, or change their work habits rather than spend to avoid the effects of the elements; which countries have an obvious answer to the grid problem staring them in the face, and which simply see it as another intractable problem.

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Soumya Duggal

Soumya is a master's degree holder in English, with a passion for writing. It's an interest she has directed towards environmental writing recently, with a special emphasis on the progress being made in renewable energy.