Energy grids no match for climate change
Times of extreme weather are when you most expect to be able to flip on your home air conditioning or heating. But as climate change brings more extreme highs and lows, and during different times of the year than normally expected, utilities are asking customers to conserve energy. The heat waves that have come with the early days of summer have prompted energy companies in several states to ask individuals to turn up their thermostats amid fears of demand overwhelming grids.
Con Edison texted New York City customers asking them to reduce their energy usage as crews worked to repair equipment. When demand surges as it has during hot spells across the U.S., power lines overheat and can begin to smoke, damaging them and causing outages. After a massive power outage during a February winter storm, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas asked customers to limit their energy usage during 100-degree weather as mechanical problems at power plants took 12,000 megawatts — enough to power 2.4 million homes — offline. The city of Mesa, Ariz., has asked residents to set their thermostats at 78 degrees between 3 and 8 p.m. or when they’re not at home this summer. California’s Independent System Operator has sent out Flex Alerts advising customers of hours when they should try to avoid high-usage appliances, including electronic vehicle chargers.
Those are just a few examples of places where climate change is hitting hardest, but its effects stretch far and wide. Energy use and climate change have always been intertwined. The invention of air conditioning made it possible for cities to grow in inhospitable places. That led to more energy consumption, which led to more dependence on fossil fuels, which made climate change worse. We need to face the realities of the world we live in, not the one we used to live in. As Michael Webber, a professor of energy resources at the University of Texas told NBC News, “We’ve planned for the weather of the past instead of the weather for the future. We’re getting more heat often and in different seasons than we expect. We’re also getting cold more often and with lower temperatures than we expect.”
Climate denial and greenwashing are only delaying the inevitable. Without meaningful change, our energy infrastructure won’t stand up to what we’re asking of it. It’s only going to keep getting hotter.