As the Earth’s temperature rises, people increasingly rely on cooling systems. New research has shown that the power plants that provide them will soon be trapped – they will not be able to cope with people’s growing needs for food and drive greenhouse gas emissions to dangerous levels.
According to the December report of the World Meteorological Organization, 2020 was one of the hottest years.
This year, Ethan Koffel, assistant professor of geography and the environment at Maxwell School, conducted research and published the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters results. The work aims to understand how warming temperatures will affect every part of humanity’s energy infrastructure.
Thermal power plants, which now generate most of the electricity, are already forced to cut their output on hot days due to cooling constraints. On the hottest days, the power plant’s capacity can be reduced by at least 10%. This loss of generating capacity leads to problems. Indeed, it is on hot days that electricity is most needed for the operation of air conditioners.
As global warming makes heat waves more frequent, intense, and prolonged, the negative effects of heat on power plants will become more pronounced. With global warming of 2 ° C – the top target agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement – the frequency of power outages on hot days could almost double from today’s levels.
New research has shown harmful interactions between human adaptation and infrastructure vulnerability in a warming environment. As hot days become more frequent, more and more people use air conditioners for their comfort. But cooling systems require electricity, which further increases greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming. Also, an increase in the number of air conditioners will increase electricity demand. At the same time, heat will reduce power plants’ generation, potentially putting stress on the grid in some places. It turns out to be a vicious circle.
Heat production will be at a disadvantage in a warmer world. By mid-century, it may take 100-200 additional medium-sized power plants worldwide to compensate for the loss of generating capacity due to the hotter climate. Shifting the electricity industry to renewable energy sources, especially wind and solar, will reduce climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the negative impact of global warming on our energy infrastructure, scientists conclude.