Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Electric demand controllable for now, but in the Climate Change future maybe not so much


This commonplace story today about the present heat wave and the assurance by our electric providers that they will be able to meet demand is something that should be on our radar.

“With the mercury heading for the upper 90s later this week, Rochester Gas and Electric said Monday it anticipates no problems meeting demand for electricity. Usage typically soars on hot days when air conditioners work hard to keep things cool. The all-time record electricity demand by RG&E customers was set on Aug. 1, 2006, when temperatures in Rochester hit 94 degrees.” (July 19, 2011) Heat brings higher electricity demand | Democrat and Chronicle | democratandchronicle.com

Because temperatures are already going up in the Northeast, there will be more days of extreme heat and they will put a considerable load our electric demand. Check this out:

Since 1970, the annual average temperature in the Northeast has increased by 2°F, with winter temperatures rising twice this much. Warming has resulted in many other climate-related changes, including: More frequent days with temperatures above 90°F; a longer growing season; Increased heavy precipitation; Less winter precipitation falling as snow and more as rain; Reduced snowpack; Earlier breakup of winter ice on lakes and rivers; Earlier spring snowmelt resulting in earlier peak river flows; Rising sea surface temperatures and sea level"--from Global Climate Change Impacts in the US (2009)

That ‘frequent days with temperature above 90°F’ should catch your eye because this is going to be our future here in the Rochester region. Even if we stop all Carbon Dioxide emissions right now. It’s the penalty we have to endure because we didn’t act on this issue decades ago.

And this is all significant because everyone turning on their air conditioners at the same peak time puts a tremendous load on our electrical grid and this will be the new normal in Rochester’s climate. The solution won’t be to pour on more coal or gas because those are fossil fuels and they will warm up our summers even more. When you are stuck in a hole, don’t keep digging.

The answer is to increase renewable energy, storage capacity in our batteries, smart grid technology, energy efficiency, and decrease demand.

Another tact we should be taking at this moment, a teaching moment, is to remind the public of the increase in extreme heat when mentioning heat demand in the news. The public needs to be continually reminded that the present heat wave can be dealt with, but those future heat waves--maybe not so much.

This is important because if the media does not connect the dots between handing the electric demand and Climate Change the public will continue to believe that everything is normal, that Climate Change doesn’t affect their lives, and so they can go vote for Climate Change deniers, buy any fossil fuel intensive vehicle they want, and just forget about Climate Change altogether. This is mostly what is happening now.

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