This summer has put the sun-drenched southern states on notice. After experiencing long spates of record-breaking temperatures, power grids in the region are facing significant strain. Between rising energy costs and the safety concerns that come with unreliable power supply, demand for solar installations is sharply increasing.
Climate Change Will Only Increase Energy Demands
Climate change has been causing a significant increase in global average surface temperatures. Since the pre-industrial era (1880-1900), there has been a roughly 2-degree Fahrenheit increase. While this might seem small, it translates to a significant increase in accumulated heat.
All of this extra heat is now driving regional and seasonal temperature extremes. In the southern USA, we just saw a heatwave with temperatures up to 20 degrees higher than normal, with no cooling relief coming at night. Overall increases in temperature and humidity are leading to more frequent occurrences of dangerously high “wet bulb” temperatures.
Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) is a measure of the heat stress in direct sunlight, taking into account key exacerbating factors like wind and humidity. As NASA puts it, wet bulb temperature is “the lowest temperature to which an object can cool down when moisture evaporates from it”.
High wet bulb temperatures can pose serious health risks, such as heat stroke and heat exhaustion. At a certain point, the heat and humidity rise to levels that human bodies can no longer sustain. WBGT becomes a threat at just 80 degrees, but the absolute limit for human tolerance is a wet-bulb temperature of 95 degrees at 100% humidity, or 115 degrees at 50% humidity. Some studies suggest that the limit may even be lower, all the way down to 88 with 100% humidity.
In southern states like Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as well as parts of Texas and surrounding states, heat warnings were recently issued after their wet bulb temperatures soared into “extreme threat” territory. Climate models currently project that these incidents will only become more common, with high-threat wet bulb temperatures expected to occur for weeks by 2050. These developing conditions are dramatically raising the demand for dependable power supply.
Image Source: Southeast Regional Climate Center
When Air Conditioning Isn’t Optional
There’s only one way Southerners will be able to find relief from these wet bulb temperatures, and that’s through ample air conditioning. There are a few problems with this, however:
- With a power grid already under pressure, increasing A/C usage only worsens the strain, causing risk of outages.
- Even when power supply is sufficient, increasing storm activity in the region (also driven by climate change) poses a threat to electrical grids. Ex: See this summer’s blackouts across Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
In either scenario, losing power during dangerous wet bulb temperatures is a threat to the health and safety of all affected citizens. Households and businesses are increasingly seeking out alternative power sources that can keep their A/C systems running even when the grid fails.
Naturally, solar systems – especially those with battery storage – are being regarded as top solutions. In Texas alone, industry insiders are predicting “exponential” adoption growth in the coming years. So what can contractors do to ensure they’re ready to meet the region’s mounting demand?
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