Climate Change = More Heat Waves = More Blackouts

Coming soon to a city near you — more power outages! As temperatures soar across the nation, a report published today in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology details research from scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which estimates that electricity demand could outstrip supply by as much as 17 percent on the hottest days in the coming decades. Co-author Norman Miller said in a statement: “Climate warming across the western U.S. could further strain the electricity grid, making brownouts or even rolling blackouts more frequent.” Cue ominous music.

What’s most discouraging about the report is that it doesn’t offer any solutions other than the stock “energy conservation and emissions reductions.” Yawn. Of course those would alleviate many of the problems of global warming, but this report addresses the specific problem of peak power demand. And there are several clean technologies that specifically address peak demand as well.

One of the biggest advantage of solar energy is that it’s a peak power producer. The day is hottest when the sun is beating down hard. Peak solar energy production, either from rooftop photovoltaics or desert-located solar thermal plants, could overlap with peak demand. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom is currently pushing rooftop solar which could obviate new, natural gas power plants.

Demand response, a grid management service offered by the likes of EnerNOC, coordinates large energy users and can alleviate peak demand by getting clients to click systems off when demand is high. The clients enjoy discounts on their energy for participating, while the utility gains extra capacity in the form of “negawatts,” and EnerNOC takes a nice cut.

Air conditioning is by far the biggest offender in these heat wave-induced energy spikes. Greener ventilation design can drastically reduce the need to cool a building. Of the presidential hopefuls, Barack Obama has made a building efficiency a part of his energy planby proposing that all new government buildings must be carbon neutral by 2030. He also wants to improve the energy efficiency of existing government buildings by 25 percent.