The team's study of energy use shows just how complicated planning for a warmer planet will be. "There is a slight increase in energy demand throughout the region throughout the year," Ruth says. "But, what's really key is that this doesn't happen uniformly through the year."
Warmer summers should increase the need for electricity, but warmer winters would require less oil for heating. "We would expect that the peak load demands for the months of June, July and August increase significantly, well beyond what we see now," says Ruth, careful to add, "not all of the additional demand is directly attributable to climate change. Some of it has to do with the fact we're using more electrical equipment."
Ruth's team estimates that between 30 and 40 percent of the additional demand in summer will be attributable to climate change, but he points out that the study only looked at electrical needs on a monthly basis and that additional studies on a daily or hourly level would be needed to more accurately predict electricity use.
Compounding the energy issue is that there might be less water available to generate electricity. A warmer winter might yield more precipitation, but instead of falling as snow, more of it might fall as rain. If so, it will flow through the dams earlier in the year and not when it's needed. "If we have, let's say, a decline in water availability for cooling purposes during hot summer months, not only do we have a decline in drinking water and water for other purposes, but we are now out during the months where we need the most electricity; we have less of an ability to generate it," Ruth explains.
Across the Board
What's really unique about this study, says Ruth, is that, "we did not solely look at, for example, electrical systems or water systems or health systems or transportation or communication, whatever they are within urban areas, but that we've really analyzed them in their interrelationship, and that's really new." Besides scientists, the study team incorporated engineers and policy makers, and Ruth says that his team was "able to learn from them and also teach them about climate change."
Ruth points out that while this study is "very place specific," the procedure is one that could be applied to studying climate change anywhere in the country. An overview and summary of the project is published in the journal World Resources Review. Portions of the study have been published and presented at various scientific meetings including the 2003 American Association for the Advancement of Science, but the final report is due out later in 2004. This project was funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development as a STAR ("Science to Achieve Results") Grant.