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Much attention has been given to how energy affects the climate. Here we look at the reverse: the effect of climate on energy, particularly in the Metropolitan East Coast region.

In recent decades, heating degree-days have declined and cooling degree-days have risen in the metropolitan region, more so than in New York State as a whole. These trends are expected to continue. A decline in the need for heating is not an energy problem — except possibly for fuel suppliers — but a rise in the need for cooling is. This is particularly the case for generating electricity in summer heat waves. To project future electric peaking requirements under climate change scenarios, the model used by the New York State power industry for short-term forecasting based on weather conditions was adapted.

The principal industry response to the peaking problem is to build more power plants in the metropolitan region. A question for further research is how much this additional power under peak conditions will increase the stress on local distributions systems, contribute to global warming, affect local air pollution, and raise the temperature of the urban heat island.

The crux of the problem is electric air conditioning. Electric air conditioning is the cause of summer peak electric loads, and it increases carbon dioxide emissions. Other ways of cooling need to be promoted. The problem is not simply one for the power industry; it is the public that must reduce demand for energy.

Summarizing the key findings:

  • The warming climate is increasing the degree-days of cooling required in the metropolitan region, intensifying peak summer electricity demands.
  • The principal industry response is to build more power plants in the region to meet the need for electric air conditioning.
  • Alternatives to provide cooling in buildings and in the community need to be promoted, preferably passive methods such as the "Cool Communities" program for extensive tree planting and high-albedo surfaces on roofs and pavements.
  • The "weatherization" program to reduce winter heating costs for low-income people should be extended — and much more generously funded — to provide summer cooling in urban areas by including fans, air conditioners, and light-colored roofs as well as building insulation.

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