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A Hotter World is Turbocharging Our Electricity Use

The U.S. came very close to setting a new record for hourly electricity demand this summer.

An air conditioning system.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

It’s getting hotter. And when it gets really hot, everyone uses more electricity, much of which comes from fossil fuels. This is a basic dilemma facing much of the world thanks to climate change, with the United States very, very much included.

According to data from the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. had its second highest demand for electricity in a given hour this past summer, with 741,815 megawatt-hours on the grid on July 27, 2023. Temperatures were as high as 125 degrees in Death Valley that day, with local highs of 95 degrees in New York City, 94 degrees in Houston, and 96 degrees in Los Angeles. Total electricity demand was also only 889 megawatt-hours short of the record set on July 20, 2022.

Annual demand peaked last year with just over 4 trillion megawatt-hours of electricity consumed across the country, according to EIA data. That record will surely be broken in the coming years. Indeed, several electric grids had all-time usage records this past summer, including Texas’s ERCOT and several grids in Arizona.

Overall consumption will likely continue to rise, not just because of more demand for air conditioning in a warming world, but because of the policy response to warming, namely electrification. To get away from burning fossil fuels for power and heat, more cars will run off batteries and more homes will be heated and cooled with heat pumps.

All this, along with population growth, economic growth, and increased industrialization to build the renewable energy components, cars, and semiconductors policymakers want to bring back onshore, poses quite the challenge to those tasked with reducing emissions. Climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels for energy, yet our energy consumption will rise in response to climate change. The fast deployment of tremendous amounts of non-carbon-emitting energy is the only way to deal with the effects of global warming without making the problem worse.

Matthew Zeitlin

Matthew is a correspondent at Heatmap. Previously he was an economics reporter at Grid, where he covered macroeconomics and energy, and a business reporter at BuzzFeed News, where he covered finance. He has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, Barron's, and New York Magazine. Read More

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