The battle to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is heavily focused on replacing fossil fuel power plants with renewable energy and replacing internal combustion engine autos with electric cars. But there is another elephant in the room: air conditioners.
The Las Vegas Strip has been referred to as an energy consumption nightmare. Just one look at the place provides evidence for the claim: an endless sea of lights, glitz and glamour and cavernous casinos running huge banks of air conditioning equipment in the desert heat. Even with Boulder Dam a hop, skip and jump away, Vegas is struggling to meet its electricity needs.
Los Angeles has decided to replace a major gas-burning power plant with an energy storage device which, if not exceeded by another before it is completed, will be the world’s largest storage battery.
Many of the world’s biggest cities have miles of underground pipes built decades ago that provide district energy. District energy systems use a central plant to produce steam, hot water or chilled water that is then piped underground to individual buildings for space heating, domestic hot water heating and air conditioning. As a result, individual buildings served by a district energy system don’t need their own boilers or furnaces, chillers or air conditioners.
One of the challenges of operating the electricity grid is that there are times when everybody wants more electricity than usual – like during a hot afternoon in August – and the system struggles to keep up with the increased demand.
Anyone who has walked the streets of New York City or Washington, D.C. on a stifling summer day can attest to the fact that cities feel hotter. It’s not a matter of perception.