As temperatures climb, demand for home air conditioning in the United States is expected to increase 59 percent over the next 30 years, increasing emissions, straining power grids, and financially burdening millions of middle- and low-income American families who already struggle to pay utility bills, according to a new analysis from the research group Climate Central. Air conditioning demand in commercial buildings is expected to increase 17 percent.
The analysis is based on data from 242 U.S. cities, tracking air conditioning use and a measure known as cooling-degree days (CDDs). As Gizmodo’s Earther explains, CDDs represent the difference between 65 degrees Fahrenheit — the meteorologist-accepted standard comfortable temperature — and the daily average temperature at a given location. So a day with an average temperature of 90 degrees F is equivalent to 25 CDDs. The more CDDs, the higher the air conditioning use.
Analysts found that from 1970 to 2019, 96 percent of American cities experienced an increase in CDDs. While cooler cities saw an uptick in CDDs, it was communities in already hot climates that experienced the largest surges, including McAllen, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada; and Phoenix, Arizona. Those cities each had 1,000 more CDDs in 2019 than they did in 1970.
One in four U.S. households currently faces a “high energy burden,” E&E News reported, meaning they spend more than 6 percent of their household income on energy bills. For low-income families, the high energy burden affects two-thirds of households. As daytime and nighttime temperatures continue to go up due to climate change, the financial burden of rising utility bills will increase.
“For the average person who isn’t into climate science, turning on the air conditioner is just something we do when it gets warm outside,” Sean Sublette, a meteorologist at Climate Central who worked on the analysis, told E&E News. “Our findings indicate they’re going to be doing it more often, and earlier and later in the year.”