Higher demand for air conditioning could affect the climate more (VIDEO)

The growing demand for air conditioning exceeds supply. This increase in AC use will also affect the climate, which could lead to more heat waves.

The increased demand for air conditioning in the United States was underscored by record-breaking heat waves, which affected tens of millions of Americans from coast to coast.

Experts say additional air conditioning and energy capacity are needed for health reasons, as extreme heat is responsible for more weather-related deaths in the United States than any other type of hazard. At the same time, there are fears that this energy consumption will worsen the effects of climate change.

“Climate change has made it warmer, and as humans, the best adaptive policy or action we can take is to use air conditioning,” said Renee Orbringer, assistant professor at the School of Energy and Mineral Mining from Pennsylvania State University. “That, in turn, depending on where you get your energy – which in the United States is largely fossil fuel – leads to worsening climate change. What we’re seeing is that this is happening a lot faster than most utilities were prepared.”

In fact, residents in areas that historically had less need for cooling appliances are seeing spikes in air conditioning adoption. In Seattle, where only 44% of households have a window unit or central air conditioner, demand has been so high that installation companies in the area were already booked for the summer in April.

It also won’t take much of a temperature rise to drive demand. A study by Orbringer found that household demand for air conditioning would increase by 13% if the world warms by two degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 degrees Farhenheit. If global temperatures rise by half a degree Celsius, it could triple the demand for air conditioning in Indiana and Ohio, potentially straining unprepared energy grids for these increases.

“Worst-case scenario: our demand increases, our supply stays the same,” Orbringer said. “We’re going to have potentially two weeks of a deficit where we don’t meet our demand, and ultimately the way the power grids work is they don’t want to shut down the whole grid because it’s taking so long to turn it back on. So they’ll be shutting down parts of the network to keep everything working.

Solving the problem will require finding ways to make our air conditioning more efficient, which may mean renovating entire old buildings.

But the amount of energy you need to cool your home depends on the climate you live in, so air conditioning specifications in one part of the country may not match another region.

“What causes households in Arizona to increase their use of air conditioning will not be the same as in Florida, because this humidity factor is absolutely critical in determining how we feel the temperature as humans,” said Orbringer.

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