The heatwave in the northwest underscores the fragility of our networks

A record-breaking heat wave in the northwestern United States provides the latest example of how poorly prepared we are to deal with the deadly challenges of climate change.

Triple-digit temperatures in many areas have put more demand and strain on the grid, with residents turning on fans and air conditioners – and in many cases new units being acquired in places that rarely required them in the past. At least thousands of homes have lost electricity PortlandAnd the Seattle And the in another place In the past few days, causing dangerous situations amid temperatures that could easily lead to heat stroke or worse.

Observers are concerned about the potential for more widespread outages as temperatures rise this week and the heatwave reaches other regions.

Climate change is causing frequent, extreme and extended heat waves around the world, according to climate scientists constantly find. In this case, a high-pressure ridge stalled along the Canadian border has created what’s known as a thermal dome, trapping hot air over an area stretching as far as northern California and as far east as Idaho.

California network operators announce They are likely to call for a voluntary cut in electricity use on Monday, amid an expected supply shortage as temperatures threaten to reach the mid-100s in the interior of the state.

While the main concern is the increase in demand that occurs when residents order air conditioning, the heat itself can undermine the grid in other ways as well, says Arne Olson, senior partner at the energy and environmental consulting firm. It can reduce the efficiency of power plants, transformers that overheat and cause power lines to sag, which can happen brush against trees It causes outages.

California faces an additional challenge of having less hydropower than usual, amid severe drought conditions. In addition, interconnected network operators in the West may not be able to rely on excess supply from other regions because the heat wave is affecting a large swath of the country, Olson adds.

In many ways what we’re seeing is an electrical system built largely for the climate of the past, says Jane Long, a former associate director at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Reinforce our electrical systems for increasingly frequent or severe forms of extreme weather – whether it’s this summer’s heatwaves or Last winter’s storms– Will necessitate major upgrades to US networks, including: transition to modern transmission and distribution systems; “weathering“Generation sources such as wind turbines or natural gas plants; and adding more energy storage.

It will also require the development of a variety of power plants that can do so Provide a steady supply In any weather scenario or time of day, Long says. This will become more complex as regions rely on larger shares of wind and solar energy, which fluctuate constantly. Studies by Long et al have found Countries will need to integrate additional zero-carbon sources that can provide output on demand, such as geothermal, nuclear, hydrogen or natural gas plants with systems that can capture climate emissions.

We will need too Increased efficiency And the Climate friendly Forms of air conditioning systems.

Also, high temperatures and severe drought conditions increase the risk of fire, which requires Additional changes and considerations in the electrical systemIncluding: burial lines and the installation of modern lines This is shutdown When an outage is detected, build distributed electricity generation and storage systems.

Power outages aren’t just a nuisance during heat waves, but can quickly become deadly, as heat exhaustion turns into heat stroke, says Stacey Champion, a community advocate who has tracked indoor heat deaths in Arizona and Paid local utilities To suspend power outages during periods of high temperatures. “It’s known as the silent killer,” says Champion.

In fact, heat waves kill more Americans than hurricanes and earthquakes combined. Children, the elderly, and pregnant women are especially at risk.

find studies Deaths and diseases caused by rising temperatures will only rise as climate change accelerates.

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