Written By: Elle Eyestone
Edited By: Ada Collins
As climate change worsens and communities across the globe continue to feel its growing impact, there have been noticeable and concerning heat waves. These spikes in temperature can be dangerous, particularly in countries where air conditioning systems are uncommon. However, heat waves can wreak more havoc on cities than may be immediately apparent - particularly when it comes to power grid management.
When temperatures rise, electricity demand skyrockets as the need for urgent cooling increases rapidly. After extreme and prolonged heat in Texas, electricity that could previously power 1,000 homes could only power 200 (Heat wave, n.d.). Additionally, in the US, supermarkets’ energy consumption increases around 129% and retail stores consumption increases around 125% - both for cooling alone (Heat wave, n.d.)! These rising temperatures impact power grid management, thereby impairing the ability of people to access electricity (Heat wave, n.d.). This past summer, thousands of people in the Midwest of the United States faced extreme temperatures and humidity without electricity or air conditioning (Kasakove, 2022).
Even in countries that rely on sustainable forms of energy, such as hydroelectricity, are impacted. Reservoirs can dry up and slow down the productivity of the hydroelectric dams (Heat wave, n.d.). This effect was felt by countries such as Sweden, where hydropower accounts for most of their renewable energy (Heat wave, n.d.).
Because of how quickly and severely temperatures have been increasing, it is difficult for governments to come up with sustainable solutions. One possible remedy in the EU is to slacken the fossil fuel policies to allow for higher-carbon sources to account for the increased electricity demands (Heat wave, n.d.). Even now, between June 12 and July 17, daily carbon emissions increased by 18% in the EU due to the heat waves (Heat wave, n.d.). While this is not an environmentally friendly solution, it may be necessary for the safety of EU citizens (Heat wave, n.d.).
Alternatively, a study by Viguié et al. (2020) found that increasing public green spaces, improving insulation and building regulations, and encouraging people to keep AC at 28 degrees Celcius could effectively (when implemented together) decrease the environmental impact of air conditioning. These changes can also help to decrease the frantic demand for air conditioning during heat waves, which would help to prevent the crashing of electricity grids (Viguié et al., 2020).
In conclusion, heat waves are an urgent concern for the health and safety of populations across the globe, and the issue requires urgent solutions. Finding effective, sustainable, and speedy solutions proves to be difficult. For the time being, governments must take the steps that they can (such as those outlined by Viguié et al.) to lessen the impact of heatwaves on electricity grids.
Heat wave more than doubles cooling energy consumption in commercial buildings. (n.d.). https://www.ento.ai/insights/heat-wave-doubles-buildings-energy-cooling-consumption#:~:text=Supermarkets%20average%20around%20129%25%20increase,effect%20on%20building%20energy%20consumption
Kasakove, S. (2022). Power outages add to the misery in the Midwest as sweltering heat seizes much of the U.S. (published 2021). The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/08/12/us/climate-change
Viguié, V., Lemonsu, A., Hallegatte, S., Beaulant, A.-L., Marchadier, C., Masson, V., Pigeon, G., & Salagnac, J.-L. (2020). Early adaptation to heat waves and future reduction of air-conditioning energy use in Paris. Environmental Research Letters, 15(7), 075006. https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab6a24
What do extreme heat waves mean for energy supply and management?. Hive Power - Energy, made smart. (n.d.). https://www.hivepower.tech/blog/what-do-extreme-heat-waves-mean-for-energy-supply-and-management