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Blackouts from London to Los Angeles are the new normal

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  • Climate change and rising energy prices could make widespread blackouts more common, even in wealthy countries.
  • Californians narrowly avoided a statewide blackout, and the war-affected Britons in Ukraine will soon see their electricity bills nearly double.
  • As energy costs soar, a new era of rolling blackouts and grid instability is looming large.

Stock up on batteries, candles and non-perishable snacks. A power outage is coming.

For the first time in decades, the Western world is preparing for widespread energy shortages. The US, UK and EU are all under pressure from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising electricity and fuel costs and record heatwaves. Fall is just around the corner, but the worst energy strains can still linger.

Even wealthy countries will not be spared, at least without broad policy change and a rethinking of the private sector. Add the economic costs and extreme health risks that come with it, and the picture becomes very difficult.

In California, it materializes as blackout warnings and air conditioning restrictions. Years later, people in Texas, Illinois, and Missouri will join their West Coast brethren in their woes in sweltering heat and planned power outages.

In Europe and the UK, residents unaccustomed to heatwaves will face higher energy prices and dangerously hot summers. The situation is further exacerbated by Russia’s dependence on gas, which has virtually completely cut off the flow of Russian gas.

In the US, climate change risks decades of ‘extreme danger’

California’s grid operator ISO urged residents to limit their energy use Tuesday afternoon amid record heat on the West Coast and warned that rolling blackouts could occur.

A screenshot posted on Reddit of the California energy warning.

Reddit user u/ZachTF

Text alert worked. Emergency precautions were lifted at 8pm PT without requiring a major blackout. Utilities added that residents’ energy savings “played a big role” in making the grid more reliable.

The relief was short-lived. Just 15 hours later, ISO issued another warning calling on residents to reduce their energy use in the afternoon. Californians were encouraged to avoid large appliances, unplug unused electronics, and set thermostats above 78 degrees.

“I can’t keep doing this,” Twitter user @sd fashionista 3 I wrote in response to ISO on Thursday morning. “I’ve been in San Diego all my life and never seen temperatures this high at night, even in Santa Ana.”

And while ISO’s Tuesday alert helped avoid rolling blackouts, data from showed that more than 50,000 Californians experienced some form of blackout that afternoon.

The strain on California’s power grid can be directly attributed to climate change. Average temperatures are rising faster than residents can tolerate heat. That means Californians are using their air conditioners much longer than they did just a few years ago. However, utility companies and regulators have not strengthened grids in response, and soaring power demand is pushing infrastructure to its limits.

“Fossil-fuel-based power has traditionally been viewed as the most reliable,” Romany Webb, associate fellow at Columbia Law School and senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told an insider. “But gas supplies are becoming scarcer and more expensive, combined with these climate impacts, underscores that that’s no longer the case in practice.”

The alert was helpful on Tuesday, but highlights the looming threat facing California and other hot-weather states. About 8 million Americans are already expected to experience temperatures above his 125 degrees Celsius in 2022, according to the National Weather Service, a level deemed to pose an “extreme danger.” . That number is expected to hit 107 million by 2053, according to new research from the First Street Foundation, as climate change continues to heat up.

It’s not just California. The Foundation has discovered that all of Illinois and Missouri are set to feature 125 degree days by 2053. Some of her other 23 states land in the belt.

Without major investments in overhauling the country’s energy grid, heatwaves like this could cost the entire state without power for days. It endangers millions of people who cannot afford to cool off in generators or swimming pools.

first street foundation

Source: First Street Foundation

first street foundation

As Americans focus on surviving the heat, countless business owners have been forced to close their stores, and those who remain open don’t get much traffic.

Americans who require powered medical equipment are at the most immediate danger, especially as power outages could be imminent.

“Unless we accelerate action to mitigate climate change and prepare for the climate change that is already happening, we could see more of these outages and less reliable grids,” said Webb. increase.

Europe’s decoupling from Russian energy presents an impossible choice

The energy problems of the EU and the UK have a lot to do with their dependence on Russia. The United States can rely heavily on its own energy commodities for power despite its struggle with an outdated power grid, while Western Europe depends heavily on Moscow for natural gas and oil to keep prices stable. I’m here.

The relationship was rocky, but it lasted decades. That ended when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, sparking a fierce backlash from the West. The EU and UK have revealed plans to immediately impose sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, quickly curtail purchases of Russian goods and find those goods elsewhere.

Pivoting has never been easier. Western Europe suffers from year-round energy shortages, with summer heat exacerbating the problem. A devastating heatwave has broken out across the UK, Spain, Portugal and France, with record temperatures sparking massive wildfires and thousands of deaths.

George Havenith, professor of environmental physiology and ergonomics at Loughborough University, recently told Insider.

Many companies are already preparing for a historic energy crisis. JP Morgan’s European office has conducted blackout simulations in recent weeks to prepare for blackouts, Reuters reported Wednesday. Deutsche Bank told the outlet it cut off hot water in bathrooms and changed office temperatures to reduce energy use. Euronext stock exchange said it has backup generators in case of power outages.

The heatwave has since eased somewhat, but Russia’s retaliation for the energy embargo has triggered a new level of pain. Britain and her EU are not yet completely cut off from Russian gas and are running out of energy supplies as the Kremlin cuts off the flow to the West.

As a result, residents are forced to pay for their daily electricity needs. The UK energy regulator has raised the annual energy bill cap to £3,549 (about $4,189) from October 1, nearly doubling the previous cap and a 178% increase from last winter.

Hiking presents an impossible option for low-income Britons. Either borrow money to maintain basic energy usage, or endure scorching summers and frigid winters filled with blackouts and health hazards.

Prime Minister Liz Truss announced on Thursday (just three days in office) that the government will cap annual household energy bills at £2,500 ($2,880) from 1 October, easing the impact of rising costs. . The UK government will pay the rest of the bill, and while the government has not announced the full cost of the measure, it could be one of the most expensive economic interventions the UK has seen in decades. .

Financial Times chief economics commentator Martin Wolfe said in Sunday’s column that while there are few immediate solutions to the energy crisis, such price controls “must be considered” to keep inflation in check. ” he said.

However, as climate change intensifies, there is a growing impetus to strengthen the grid with renewable power and efficient energy storage.

“Unless we recognize the serious risks that climate change poses to our electrical systems, we could see more of these reliability issues,” said Webb. “It is imperative that regulators, utilities and system operators recognize that climate change is here.”