Electricity Demand Will Soar as Households Try to Cope With Hotter Temperatures

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Global energy use could increase by as much as 58 percent by 2050 as communities and industries use more air conditioning to cope with rising global temperatures, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Communications. This increased energy use will disproportionately affect low-income households, the scientists said, and will also increase greenhouse gas emissions even more, further exacerbating climate change.

Whereas previous studies focused largely on energy use for a single country, continent, or sector, this new research is a global analysis using projections from 21 climate models, as well as population and economic projections for five socioeconomic scenarios. The scientists found that global energy demand will increase 11 to 27 percent by 2050 with modest global warming, and 25 to 58 percent with more severe warming. The tropics, southern Europe, China, and the United States will all experience the greatest increases in demand.

The higher temperatures climb and the more air conditioning families need to keep cool, the more expensive utility bills will become — a situation that the scientists point out will be especially damaging to low-income households, who already spend a larger portion of their monthly budget on utilities than higher-income homes.

“Some scenarios in our study assume continued population growth, and in those cases temperature increases by 2050 could expose half-a-billion people in the lowest-income countries in the Middle-East and Africa to increases in energy demand of 25 percent or higher,” Bas van Ruijven, a researcher with the IIASA Energy Program and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “The poor face challenges to adaptation that are not only financial — in areas that have unreliable electricity supplies, or lack grid connections altogether, increased exposure to hot days increases the risk of heat-related illnesses and mortality.”