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Summer heat waves could cause more power outages than ever.  An expert explains the potentially deadly trend.


Heat waves in parts of the United States are becoming more frequent as global temperatures rise. The alarming trend threatens to put more strain on power grids that aren’t ready for the voltage surge – and the results could be potentially fatal.

“In every dimension that we can measure, heat waves have been increasing over the past 10 to 20 years,” said Brian Stone Jr., Ph.D. in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the Georgia Institute of Technology. . said Thursday on CBSN. “We know there is a relationship between heat waves and energy demand, and only hot weather in summer, and therefore we are seeing a disproportionate number of power outages occurring.”

He said climate change was responsible for the heat waves starting earlier and being more intense.

Stone and a group of other researchers conducted a study on the growing danger of blackout events that coincide with extreme weather conditions. According to their data, power outages and power outages have increased by 60% compared to the previous five-year period.

The study, which used climate and weather models for the regions, simulated how power grid outages in Phoenix, Atlanta and Detroit during periods of high heat could affect internal building temperatures.

“We’re not just focusing on the temperature outside – if we’re going to have a heat wave, we know it’s going to be really hot outside – but on understanding heat exposures inside homes.” Stone said. “Anytime you have hot weather you have some pretty extreme exposures inside the house. And then, of course, when that is made worse by a power outage, everyone loses the air conditioning.”

Residents of a city like Phoenix, where summer temperatures can regularly reach 100 degrees, normally depend on air conditioning for more livable conditions.

“During a power outage, everyone experiences temperatures well over 100 degrees, 115 degrees in their homes. And so it’s very, very dangerous,” Stone said.

“We see a risk of heat illness or death for two-thirds or more of the population of these three cities, and these are quite significant results in terms of the risk we face.”

With increased heat, hurricane seasons and the droughts that overlap with the summer months add to the pressure on electrical networks.

Stone said those in the bottom 20% of earnings were most at risk in these situations.

“The risk is magnified for two reasons – one, less likely to have air conditioning, less likely to use it, and second, we are finding that the highest heat exposures actually occur in smaller one-story homes. , single-family homes, ”he said. , adding that this type of housing in the three cities is most often inhabited by low-income residents.

The researchers also looked at the infrastructure put in place by the city in the event of a grid failure and found that the number of cooling centers where residents can take shelter from the heat could, at most, accommodate 2%. of their combined population.

These cooling centers – what Stone calls the cities’ “last resort” – are also not required to have backup generators in Atlanta and Detroit.

“This really raises questions, what is the level of preparedness for what is a very high health risk?” Stone asked. “It’s not decades in the future – it’s this summer.”

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