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Global warming could cause more California blackouts in the next decade

The night sky from University Heights during the blackout on Sept. 8, 2011.
Andy Trimlett
The night sky from University Heights during the blackout on Sept. 8, 2011.

As climate change makes summers hotter, air conditioning may become more unreliable. A new report published in the online journal “Earth’s Future” finds that as summer temperatures increase, air conditioning use will drain energy supplies and leave California residents without power. The research paper predicts the state will experience at least seven days without power each summer in the next decade.

The study’s lead author, environmental engineer Renee Obringer, told KPBS Midday Edition an expected global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next decade will increase demand for air conditioning by 4%. If global temperatures increases by 2 degrees Celsius, the demand will increase by 13%. Obringer said that would leave the nation’s power grids overwhelmed and cities across the US could be without power for days or weeks at a time. The people who will be most affected by the heat waves and lack of air conditioning will be in marginalized communities, including the poor and elderly, leading to sickness and death.

California has an advantage in this grim scenario. Obringer said because the state has the highest appliance efficiency standards in the nation, it would require the smallest efficiency upgrade to compensate for the increase in demand in power.


Obringer said the purpose of the study is twofold. One: to increase awareness of the need to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. And two: to alert states that they need to prepare for increased summer energy demands.