Impacts of climate change on sub-regional electricity demand and distribution in the southern United States


High average temperatures lead to high regional electricity demand for cooling buildings, and large populations generally require more aggregate electricity than smaller ones do. Thus, future global climate and population changes will present regional infrastructure challenges regarding changing electricity demand. However, without spatially explicit representation of this demand or the ways in which it might change at the neighbourhood scale, it is difficult to determine which electricity service areas are most vulnerable and will be most affected by these changes. Here we show that detailed projections of changing local electricity demand patterns are viable and important for adaptation planning at the urban level in a changing climate. Employing high-resolution and spatially explicit tools, we find that electricity demand increases caused by temperature rise have the greatest impact over the next 40 years in areas serving small populations, and that large population influx stresses any affected service area, especially during peak demand.

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Figure 1: Per cent substation capacity used by customer service areas in the year 2011.
Figure 2: Per cent of substation capacity of average electricity demand by service area in 2030.
Figure 3: Per cent of substation capacity of peak electricity demand by service area in the 2050s.
Figure 4: Difference in demand percentage of capacity, 2052–2011.


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This manuscript has been authored by employees of UT-Battelle, under contract DE-AC05-00OR22725 with the US Department of Energy. The authors would also like to acknowledge the financial support for this research by the Integrated Assessment Research Program of the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science. We thank the Tennessee Valley Authority and Electric Reliability Council of Texas for their provision of power data to the project.

Author information

M.R.A., S.J.F. and J.S.F. designed the study. M.R.A. collected the population, migration and electricity consumption data and performed the service area and per cent demand calculations. J.S.F. provided the climate and WRF-downscaled temperature data and analysis. M.M.O. acquired, archived, documented and analysed the substation capacity data. All participated in drafting, reviewing and revising the manuscript.

Correspondence to Melissa R. Allen.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Supplementary Figures 1–17, Supplementary Tables 1–2, Supplementary Note 1, Supplementary References. (PDF 7118 kb)

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Allen, M., Fernandez, S., Fu, J. et al. Impacts of climate change on sub-regional electricity demand and distribution in the southern United States. Nat Energy 1, 16103 (2016) doi:10.1038/nenergy.2016.103

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