Climate Change To Dramatically Shift European Electricity Consumption

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A team of scientists from Germany and the United States has determined that rising temperatures due to climate change will have a dramatic impact on Europe’s electricity consumption patterns, culminating in putting extra strain on European power grids.

Led by scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the new study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), analyzing what unchecked global warming would look like for Europe’s electricity demand. The key findings from the study, North–south polarization of European electricity consumption under future warming, find that daily peak loads in Southern Europe will likely increase while overall consumption will shift from Northern Europe to the South.

Maybe most importantly considering its impact on the European electricity grids, the authors of the report also concluded that a majority of countries will see a shift of temperature-driven annual peak demand from winter to summer by the end of this century. Specifically, according to the authors of the report, “While demand for space heating is expected to decrease in response to less-frequent cold days, increased adoption and operation of air conditioning due to growing demand for space cooling during hot days will put upward pressure on electricity consumption as well as daily and seasonal peak loads.”

“It is fascinating to see how the response of electricity consumption to temperature changes is similar across European countries’ peak and total electricity use seem to be smallest on days with a maximum temperature of about 22°C (72°F), and increases when this daily maximum temperature either rises or falls,” said lead author Leonie Wenz from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“We use this common characteristic as a basis for estimating future electricity consumption under climate change — that is beyond the current temperature range. That way, those European countries that are already experiencing very hot temperatures today serve as examples for the future of cooler countries. It turns out that electricity demand in Europe will shift from countries like Sweden or Norway to countries like Portugal or Spain. Concurrently, the annual peak load will shift from winter to summer in most countries.”

The impact is obviously not just seen on electricity demand but has dire consequences on humanity itself. The authors of the report highlight the impact that hotter temperatures have on humans, and point to research which shows such factors negatively impact human health, social interactions, and economic output — not to mention increased deaths due to heat waves.

“Quantifying the connection between heat and human behavior is at the frontier of climate change research,” added co-author Max Auffhammer from the University of California, Berkeley. “There now is ample evidence that when it’s hot outside, air quality suffers, people are more stressed, aggressive, violent and less productive, mortality and crime rates rise. All sectors of the economy are affected by thermal stress, from the residential to the commercial, agricultural to the industrial sector. “

This turns it back around to the underlying premise of the article, namely that to accommodate and combat the shift in temperatures and the increase in hot weather, humans naturally turn to air conditioners.

“The main adaptation mechanism available to humans to combat high outdoor temperatures is a cooled indoor built environment, which in most settings requires the consumption of significant amounts of electricity,” continued Auffhammer. “This increased demand for air conditioning will put pressure on electricity grids when it is hot outside and generation and transmission infrastructure are already strained.”

This might sound like something of a no-brainer, but air conditioning has never found the widespread love and devotion in Europe as in other countries such as the United States and some parts of Australia.

“A few decades ago, no ordinary car in Europe had air conditioning, today almost every automobile has it — the same development will probably happen with buildings in Europe, yet not for reasons of comfort but due to necessity,” added co-author Anders Levermann from PIK and Columbia University in New York. “People will need to cool down their environments to keep up their life and economic productivity.”