The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

Other reports in this collection Energy Demand

Climate warming would result in increased demand for cooling and decreased demand for heating energy, with the overall net effect varying with geographic region; however, changes in energy demand for comfort are expected to result in a net saving overall for North America.

Space heating and cooling are the most climate-sensitive uses of energy; they account for about 14% of energy use in North America, based on U.S. estimates extended to include Canada (see Table 8-8). The demand for summer cooling is likely to increase with projected warming. On the other hand, winter heating demand will be reduced. Rosenthal et al. (1995) concluded that a 1.8�C global warming would reduce total U.S. energy use associated with space heating and air conditioning by 1 exajoule (EJ)-11% of demand-in the year 2010; costs would be reduced by $5.5 billion (1991 dollars). Belzer et al. (1996) found that a 4�C warming would decrease total site energy use for commercial sector heating and cooling by 0.5-0.8 EJ (13-17%) and associated primary energy by 0.1-0.4 EJ (2-7%), depending on the degree to which advanced building designs penetrate the market. (This analysis was based on projected buildings in the year 2030, though the assumed temperature increase is much greater than Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projections for that period.)

Table 8-8: Use of energy in buildings in U.S., 1989-90.(1)

Energy Source/Use
Commercial (2)

Air conditioning
Space heating
Natural Gas
Space heating
Fuel Oil
District Heat

(1) All values based on Buildings and Energy in the 1980s, Energy Information Administration, DOE/EIA-0555(95)/1, June 1995.
(2) Commercial values are from 1989.

Note: Total energy resource consumption within the U.S. in 1990 was 80 quads, so space conditioning accounted for about 14% of total.

The seasonal occurrence of peak demand for electricity is an important factor. If peak demand occurs in winter, maximum demand is likely to fall, whereas if there is a summer peak, maximum demand will rise. The precise effects are strongly dependent on the climate zone (Linder and Inglis, 1989). Climate change may cause some areas to switch from a winter peaking regime to approach a summer peaking regime (Scott et al., 1994). Fewer studies have estimated the possible impact of climate change on investment requirements in electricity supply. An exception is the "infrastructure" component (Linder and Inglis, 1989) of the U.S. national climate effects study (Smith and Tirpak, 1989), which estimated that with a 1.1�C warming, peak demand would increase by 29 gigawatts (GW), or 4% of the baseline level for that year. Decreases in investment for heating supply fuels have not been estimated.

Although usually smaller in total magnitude of energy demand, the use of electricity and fuels for irrigation pumping and the use of fuels for drying of agricultural crops also can be significant weather-sensitive demands in some regions (Darmstadter, 1993; Scott et al., 1993). Pumping would tend to increase in regions suffering a decrease in natural soil moisture-for example, Goos (1989) found a 20% increase in energy demand for irrigation in the province of Alberta-whereas drying energy would decrease where humidity decreases. Automobile fuel efficiency may decrease slightly as a result of greater use of air-conditioning. With a 4�C warming, autos would consume an additional 47 liters of fuel per 10,000 km driven, for a total cost of $1-3 billion per year at current energy prices (Titus, 1992).

The technological capacity to adapt to climate change is likely to be readily available in North America. However, its application will be realized only if the necessary information is available, the institutional and financial capacity to manage change exists, and the benefits of adaptive measures are considered to be worth their costs. Therefore, to increase the potential for adaptation and to reduce costs, it is essential that information about the nature of climate change is available sufficiently far in advance in relation to the planning horizons and lifetimes of investments.

(continues on next page...)

Other reports in this collection