Home Energy conservation Blackouts from London to LA are the new normal

Blackouts from London to LA are the new normal

  • Climate change and soaring energy prices could make widespread blackouts more common, even in rich countries.
  • Californians narrowly avoided power outages across the state, and war-affected Britons in Ukraine will soon pay almost double for electricity.
  • As energy costs soar, a new era of grid outages and instability looms.

Stock up on batteries, candles and non-perishable snacks. Breakdowns happen.

For the first time in decades, the Western world is bracing for widespread and continued energy shortages. The US, UK and EU have all been squeezed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, soaring electricity and fuel costs and record heat waves. With fall fast approaching, the worst of the energy tension is likely yet to come.

Even rich countries will not be spared, at least without a general policy change and an overhaul of the private sector. Add in the economic costs and the extreme health risks that come with it, and you’re in a very tough spot.

In California, this will materialize in outage warnings and restrictions on your air conditioning. Then, in the years to come, Texans, Illinois and Missourians will join their West Coast peers in suffering amid sweltering heat and blackouts.

And across Europe and the UK, residents unaccustomed to heat waves will face skyrocketing energy bills or dangerously hot summers – a situation made worse by their reliance on gas Russian, the stream of which was essentially cut off entirely.

In the United States, climate change risks decades of “extreme danger”

Amid record temperatures on the West Coast on Tuesday afternoon, California grid operator ISO urged residents to limit their energy use and warned that power outages could be coming.


A screenshot posted to Reddit of California’s energy alert.

Reddit user u/ZachTF

SMS alert worked. Emergency precautions were lifted at 8:00 p.m. PT without the need for widespread outages. The utility added that conserving residents’ energy “plays a big role” in bolstering grid reliability.

The relief was short-lived. Just 15 hours later, the ISO issued another alert calling on residents to use less energy throughout the afternoon. Californians have been encouraged to avoid using major appliances, unplug unused electronics and set their thermostats to at least 78 degrees.

“I can’t keep doing this,” said Twitter user @sdfashionista3 wrote in response to ISO on Thursday morning. “I’ve been in San Diego all my life, I’ve never seen the temperature so high at night, even during a Santa Ana.”

And while Tuesday’s ISO alert staved off power outages, more than 50,000 Californians experienced some form of power outage this afternoon, according to data from poweroutage.us.

The strain on the California power grid can be directly attributed to climate change. Average temperatures have risen faster than residents’ heat tolerance, meaning Californians are running their air conditioning much longer than just a few years ago. Yet utility companies and regulators haven’t beefed up the power grid accordingly, and growing demand for electricity has pushed that infrastructure to the limit.

“Fossil fuel-based electricity has always been considered the most reliable,” Romany Webb, associate fellow at Columbia Law School and senior fellow at the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, told Insider. “But the combination of a shorter and more expensive gas supply, combined with these climate impacts, underscores that this is really no longer the case.”

The alerts, while helpful on Tuesday, underscore the looming threat to California and other states with warmer climates. Around 8 million Americans are already expected to experience temperatures above 125 degrees in 2022, levels considered “extremely dangerous”, according to the National Weather Service. That number is expected to rise to 107 million people by 2053 as climate change drives ever-higher temperatures, according to a new study by the First Street Foundation.

California will not be alone. All of Illinois and Missouri are expected to see 125 degree days by 2053, according to the foundation. Parts of 23 other states will land in the belt.

Without massive investment in overhauling the country’s energy grid, such heat waves could knock out power in states for days. This endangers millions of people who cannot afford to cool themselves with a generator or a swimming pool. A lack of electricity will also lead to widespread food spoilage when freezers and refrigerators shut down.

First Street Foundation

Source: First Street Foundation

First Street Foundation

Countless business owners will be forced to close shop, and those that remain open won’t get much traffic as Americans focus on battling the heat.

Americans who need motorized medical devices will be in the most immediate danger, especially since power outages can strike at any time.

“If we don’t accelerate our action to mitigate climate change and prepare for the climate change that’s already happening, we’re likely to see more of these outages and have a less reliable grid,” Webb said.

Decoupling Europe from Russian energy presents an impossible choice

The EU and UK energy problem is much more related to their dependence on Russia. While the United States can largely rely on its own energy products for electricity despite struggling with its antiquated power grid, Western Europe relies heavily on Moscow for its natural gas and crude oil to keep prices down. stable.

The relationship, although difficult, lasted several decades. This ended when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and triggered an intense reaction from the West. The EU and UK quickly imposed sanctions on Russia’s energy sector, unveiling plans to quickly reduce their purchases of Russian goods and find those goods elsewhere.

The pivot was not easy. Western Europe has been struggling with power shortages throughout the year, and the summer heat has exacerbated the problem. Crippling heat waves have emerged in the UK, Spain, Portugal and France, with record high temperatures causing large wildfires and thousands of deaths.

The heat wave was particularly dangerous because many affected countries “are not really trained to deal with the heat,” George Havenith, professor of environmental physiology and ergonomics at Loughborough University, recently told Insider.

The heat wave has since eased somewhat, but Russia’s retaliatory energy embargoes have triggered a painful new stage. The UK and EU have not yet fully weaned off Russian gas, leaving energy in a shorter supply as the Kremlin cuts off flows to the west.

This left residents to pay for their daily electricity needs. Britain’s energy regulator has raised its cap on annual energy bills to £3,549 – around $4,189 – from October 1, nearly doubling the previous limit and rising 178% from last winter.

The trek presents low-income Britons with an impossible choice: go into debt to maintain basic energy consumption, or endure a scorching summer and freezing winter plagued by blackouts and health risks.

Immediate solutions are few, but as climate change rages on, the impetus to bolster power grids with renewables and efficient energy storage is growing.

“If we don’t recognize the serious risks that climate change poses to our power system, we’re likely to see more of these reliability issues,” Webb said. “It is imperative that regulators, electric utilities and system operators recognize that climate change is here.”