Climate change may constrain future electricity supply adequacy by reducing electric transmission capacity and increasing electricity demand. The carrying capacity of electric power cables decreases as ambient air temperatures rise; similarly, during the summer peak period, electricity loads typically increase with hotter air temperatures due to increased air conditioning usage. As atmospheric carbon concentrations increase, higher ambient air temperatures may strain power infrastructure by simultaneously reducing transmission capacity and increasing peak electricity load. We estimate the impacts of rising ambient air temperatures on electric transmission ampacity and peak per-capita electricity load for 121 planning areas in the United States using downscaled global climate model projections. Together, these planning areas account for roughly 80% of current peak summertime load. We estimate climate-attributable capacity reductions to transmission lines by constructing thermal models of representative conductors, then forcing these models with future temperature projections to determine the percent change in rated ampacity. Next, we assess the impact of climate change on electricity load by using historical relationships between ambient temperature and utility-scale summertime peak load to estimate the extent to which climate change will incur additional peak load increases. We find that by mid-century (2040-2060), increases in ambient air temperature may reduce average summertime transmission capacity by 1.9%-5.8% relative to the 1990-2010 reference period. At the same time, peak per-capita summertime loads may rise by 4.2%-15% on average due to increases in ambient air temperature. In the absence of energy efficiency gains, demand-side management programs and transmission infrastructure upgrades, these load increases have the potential to upset current assumptions about future electricity supply adequacy.
- climate change
- electrical grid
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- Environmental Science(all)
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health