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Sparks

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 profile image

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.

Beryl making landfall in Texas.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Hurricane Beryl, ahem, barreled into America’s Gulf Coast as a Category 1 storm, and whenever something like that happens the entire global energy industry holds its breath. The Gulf of Mexico is not just a frequent target and breeding ground for massive storms, it is also one of America’s — and the world’s — most important energy hubs. Texas and Louisiana contains giant oil and gas fields, and the region is home to about half of the United States’ refining capacity.

At least so far, the oil and refining industry appears to have largely dodged Beryl’s worst effects. The storm made landfall in Matagorda, a coastal town between Galveston and Corpus Christi, both of which are major centers for the refinery industry. Only one refinery, the Phillips 66 facility in Sweeny, Texas, was in the storm’s cone, according to TACenergy, a petroleum products distributor. Phillips 66 did not respond to a request to comment, but Reuters reported that the Sweeny facility as well as its refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana were powered and operating. Crude oil prices have seen next to no obvious volatility, rising to $83.88 a barrel on July 3 and since settling around $82.84.

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Blue
Sparks

Climate Scored Some Quasi-Victories in Europe

What parliamentary elections in France and the U.K. mean for everyone else.

A voter and wind turbines.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

While America has been distracted by its suddenly-very-real upcoming election, two other important political stories have been unfolding across the pond. The results of last week’s parliamentary votes in France and the United Kingdom have the power to sway global climate policy — and they might even contain lessons for the U.S. about the rise (or fall) of the far-right.

What happened in France?

In June, French President Emmanuel Macron called snap elections, and the far-right National Rally party led by Marine Le Pen was widely expected to achieve a majority in the country’s 577-seat National Assembly. Instead, the New Popular Front, a hastily-formed alliance between the hard left, Greens, and Socialists, came out on top in a runoff, followed by the centrist Ensemble (which includes Macron’s Renaissance party) and the National Rally in a distant third. Because no party won the 289 seats needed to gain control of the chamber, the left and center now have to form a coalition government, which means ideological compromise — something that’s distinctly un-French. “We're not the Germans, we're not the Spanish, we're not the Italians — we don't do coalitions,” one French political commentator toldSky News.

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Green
President Biden.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

In an altogether distressing debate in which climate was far from a main focus, the two candidates did have one notable exchange regarding the Paris Agreement. The 2015 treaty united most countries around the world in setting a goal to limit global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, with 1.5 degrees as the ultimate target.

After Trump initially dodged a question about whether he would take action to slow the climate crisis, he then briefly noted “I want absolutely immaculate clean water and I want absolutely clean air. And we had it. We had H2O.”

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