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Study forecasts even with modest warming, global energy demand to increase by mid-century

A new study published in Nature Communications by researchers from IIASA, Boston University, and the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice found that by mid-century, climate change will increase the demand for energy globally, even with modest warming.

The world is dependent on energy both for human wellbeing and society’s continued development. Energy use is however also one of the human systems that is most directly influenced by changes in climate, which makes it crucial to gain insight into the impacts of climate change on energy demand.

Most previous studies explored this topic for a single country or continent, or for a single sector (mostly households). In addition, researchers only employed climate projections from either a single, or just a few climate models.

In this new study, the authors did a global analysis using temperature projections from 21 climate models, and population and economy projections for five socioeconomic scenarios. This information was fed into a statistical model to calculate changes in demand for three fuels and four economic sectors, to determine how energy demand would shift relative to today’s climate under modest and high-warming scenarios around 2050.

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The findings indicate that, compared to baseline scenarios in which energy demand is driven by population and income growth alone, climate change increases the global demand for energy around 2050 by 11-27% with modest warming, and 25-58% with vigorous warming.

Large areas of the tropics, as well as southern Europe, China, and the USA, are likely to experience the highest increases. The largest changes in demand are due to electricity needed for cooling, and occur in the industry and service sectors of the economy.

The magnitude of the increase depends on three uncertain factors:

  • the future pathways of global greenhouse gas emissions;

  • the different ways that climate models use this information to project future hot and cold temperature extremes in various world regions; and

  • the manner in which countries’ energy consumption patterns change under different scenarios of future increases in population and income.

An important way in which society will adapt to rising temperatures from climate change is by increasing cooling during hot seasons and decreasing heating during cold seasons. Changes in space conditioning directly impact energy systems, as firms and households demand less natural gas, petroleum, and electricity to meet lower heating needs, and more electricity to satisfy higher cooling needs.

—coauthor Enrica de Cian from the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC)

Whether future warming will cause the demand for energy to increase or decrease is a crucial question. If energy use rises and leads to additional emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, increased energy consumption for space conditioning could make it more difficult and costly to mitigate future warming. Quantifying this risk requires understanding how the demand for energy by different types of consumers in different climates will be affected by warming. The results of our study can in the future be used to calculate how energy market dynamics will ultimately determine changes in energy consumption and emissions.

—coauthor Ian Sue Wing, a researcher at Boston University

According to the authors, an important qualification is that the study’s findings represent the initial impacts of global warming. They do not account for the additional adjustments in fuel supplies and prices, and subsequent substitution responses by producers and consumers across the world that impacts will trigger. While these forces are likely to lead to ultimate changes in energy consumption that are less extreme, they also incur adaptation costs that will affect the broader economy and household incomes.

The lower the level of income per person, the larger the share of income that families need to spend to adapt to a given increase in energy demand. Some scenarios in our study assume continued population growth and in those cases temperature increases by 2050 could expose half a billion people in the lowest-income countries in the Middle-East and Africa to increases in energy demand of 25% or higher. The poor face challenges to adaptation that are not only financial—in areas that have unreliable electricity supplies, or lack grid connections altogether, increased exposure to hot days increases the risk of heat-related illnesses and mortality.

—lead author Bas van Ruijven, a researcher with the IIASA Energy Program

Resources

  • van Ruijven BJ, De Cian E, Wing IS (2019) “Amplification of Future Energy Demand Growth due to Climate Change.” Nature Communications doi: 10.1038/s41467-019-10399-3

Comments

HarveyD

Global warming & extreme hot weather is already creating pressure on living conditions and health in India, Africa, Central-So-America, So-East Asia, Middle East, Southern part of USA etc. Living space conditioning will demand changes in housing codes and construction methods to avoid large increases in cooling equipment and energy.

What is the best solution?

Adapting our living spaces or producing more lower cost energy or both will have to be done? Fortunately, cooling equipment can be greatly improved to provide heating and cooling with much higher efficiency (with much less energy). Mass production of those units could be done at a much lower cost where they are most needed.

Humans have known how to built better adapted living space to dealt with extreme weather for centuries. Using trees, covered roofs, natural ventilation, very low cost insulation materials etc can deal with extremes without major increase in e-energy supply. Using lower cost solar cells and ice can store cooling for hours/days.

Lad

Hate to bear bad news; but, the problem is too many people overrunning the resources of the planet. However, the solution to limit population growth has no answer without offensive repercussions...so, we continue to treat symptoms and overlook the greed in humans that will most surely lead to a dead Earth in time.

yoatmon

There is almost nothing that mankind does that has a negative effect on the environment. If it were only millions pulling off such stunts, nature could cope with such behaviour. With 8-billion + behaving in a detractive manner, it is only a matter of a short time before the final bill is presented.
War has never seen any victors; only losers. All involved can only lose, whereby some lose more than others. Anyone stupid enough to wage ware against nature has lost before the first battle has begun.
Humanity itself is the biggest problem that it is confronted with. The instructions for the destruction of this planet have already been documented in the Bible Genesis 9:7. New American Standard Bible:
"As for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it."

yoatmon

There is almost nothing that human activity is not responsible for that leaves a negative impact on the environment. If it were only millions pulling off such stunts, nature could cope with those results. With 8-billion plus performing in a detractive manner, nature has no other chance than to react the way it does. It is only a matter of a short time before the final bill is presented.
War has no victors only losers. Anyone stupid enough to wage war against nature has lost even before the first battle has begun.
The instructions for the destruction of this planet were included in the Bible, Genesis 9:7. New American Standard Bible: "As for you, be fruitful and multiply; Populate the earth abundantly and multiply in it."

HarveyD

As long as productive bulls with four wives can produce 55+ children, the world population will keep up growing.

Fortunately, for 101 reasons, our young males are progressively losing the capability to reproduce but our fertile females will find ways to compensate.

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