New York City Breaks Its Energy Use Record During Brutal Week-Long Heat Wave


(Credit: AP/Bebeto Matthews)

The heat wave that blanketed parts of the East Coast in close to 100-degree temperatures and high humidity broke the daily temperature record at JFK International Airport. It was the longest heat wave in New York City in more than a decade. But it made history in another way too: New York City broke its record for energy use on Friday, as residents cranked up air conditioning in an effort to stay cool.

Friday marked the sixth of the seven-day heat wave that brought heat indexes as high as 107 degrees to parts of New York. The city wasn’t alone in its need for air conditioning: the heat wave caused New York State, too, to break its previous power record, which was set in 2006.

New York City’s last energy use record was set in July 2011, amidst another bout of extreme temperatures — a cycle of high rates of energy usage in response to high temperatures that will become more common as climate predictions continue to play out. Heat waves are already becoming more frequent and intense as temperatures rise, and duration of heat waves has increased worldwide since the 1950s. In order to find relief from the high temperatures, residents retreat to air conditioned homes and buildings, driving up the emissions that contribute to climate change. The U.S., which has long been a leader in air conditioning usage, has seen a surge in its energy useage from A.C. over the past few decades — between 1993 and 2005, the energy it took to cool U.S. homes doubled, and by 2010 it increased by another 20 percent.

But as temperatures and income levels rise, A.C. is quickly becoming a fixture in the rest of the world as well: China is on track to pass the U.S. as the biggest consumer of electricity for A.C. by 2020, and India, which is experiencing some of the fastest growth in A.C. demand, is expected to take over growth in the industry post-2020.

These widespread increases in A.C. demand are bad news for the climate, as Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, told Environmental Health Perspectives. “You’re putting out more climate pollutants as you’re burning more coal or gas to run the air conditioners, and you’re also putting out the greenhouse gases that serve as the refrigerants in the equipment,” he said.

Though A.C. usage goes up as a whole during heat waves, there are still many people that don’t have access to it, which makes them vulnerable to the deadly effects of heat. A study released this May found that heat-related deaths in Manhattan could increase by 20 percent over the next decade, and will affect poor communities that lack access to A.C. most of all. Air conditioning, despite its contribution to climate change, can be a lifesaver during a heat wave — which is why New York started a program to provide free units to the state’s most vulnerable.

28 Responses to New York City Breaks Its Energy Use Record During Brutal Week-Long Heat Wave

  1. prokaryotes says:

    And once people venture outside everybody seems to use his gasoline powered vehicle to reach an overcrowded spot of nature.

  2. prokaryotes says:

    Nighttime Heat Waves Quadruple in Pacific Northwest July 19, 2013 — Nighttime heat waves are becoming more frequent in western Washington and Oregon.

    University of Washington research shows that the region west of the Cascades saw only three nighttime heat waves between 1901 and 1980, but that number quadrupled to 12 nighttime heat waves in the three decades after 1980

    But they found another trait for nighttime heat waves. The records show that nighttime heat waves happen during high humidity, where water vapor in the air serves as a blanket to trap heat.

    “Forecasters already do a good job at predicting when heat is coming into the region, but this might help differentiate between hot days versus hot nights,” Bumbaco said.

  3. John McCormick says:

    Indian point nuclear power plant provides 10 percent and more of NYC’s peak demand. Something to consider.

  4. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Increased heat, increased AC, increased CO2 coupled to a fairly finite power supply is an impossible equation. Rather than a brutal solution such as blackouts or power rationing, surely it is time to start educating people on how to stay cool without AC? ME

  5. Gene says:

    Its not just China and India! SE Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh together are another billion people, all of who lives in stinking hot nations and are booming economically. Africa has a billion today that will be 3 billion by 2050, no doubt they love to have AC too.

  6. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Peak usage according to Con Ed 13,322 Megawatts. Con Ed also advise that 400Mw was saved through paying large users to reduce usage.

  7. catman306 says:

    NYC had better get those roofs painted white. They can do it!

  8. Jack Burton says:

    Anyone notice that in Russian Siberia temperatures right up to the sea shore itself had closed in on 100 degrees F recently? Imagine the permafrost under constant sunlight and air temps in the 90’s!!!! Reports are that methane measurements in the atmosphere up there are also showing s spike right now.
    How much more do we have to see before the Powers That Be admit that we are decades ahead of predictions? I know that this recent extreme Siberian heat is not new, a few weeks back another northern heat wave was all the way into arctic Canada, northern Scandinavia and very extreme bordering Russia’s White Sea. Now that heat has moved East to the Kara Sea.
    Arctic Sea ice is showing the signs of collapse right now, a few more weeks of these temperatures and sunlight on blue waters instead of white ice, well, you can see what is coming.
    YET, the corporate media is silent, even the weather channel says little about these extremes up north.
    One last story, the Jet Stream is now seriously altered from it past norm. Britain’s weather service admits that it’s never before seen extreme shifts in wild weather are jet stream related, and that that ties directly back to the massive arctic sea ice melt.
    All I can say is, global warming dangers are not a future event, they are here now, and they are between 50-75 years ahead of most all predictions. Think about that? If we were THAT wrong, how wrong are we about what comes next?
    My uneducated guess is that climate has already done a major flip, a new state is in place, what we see now is the fringe of the wave of change. I wonder, what will we be posting about this in, say, 3 years from now?

  9. It’s our old friend, the positive feedback loop.

  10. I wrote an article about that very thing. Slow down-sit still; use spray bottles with water or cold compresses; draw a little cool (not cold) water in the bathtub; turn off all non-essential appliances and so on.

    I would be glad to email you a copy which you’re free to share with your connections. You can get ahold of me through my website at (I’m the editor.)

  11. Jack,

    I’m 100% with you on all this. Nothing you’ve said here comes as a surprise.

    After the big Arctic meltdown of last summer, I realized that we’ve already lost the battle — the climate has shifted and won’t go back. We’ve destabilized it.

    That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t cut back on (eliminate) fossil fuels — using them only make things worse. But we’re headed into uncharted waters no matter what we do about mitigation at this point. Better start figuring out how to conserve water and live a LOT more lightly on the land.

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The destabilization has been pretty plain for some years, probably since the amplification of northern warming by sea ice loss became apparent. The proximate mechanism for chaos appears to be the derangement of the jet stream, which appears to have come right out of the blue. Unfortunately the climate destabilization is just the start of it. What is really dangerous, and leaped to prominence at Copenhagen, is the extent of Western, particularly Anglosphere, refusal to co-operate globally, and, true to centuries of form, the plain desire to use climate destabilization as a weapon to end the economic and geo-political rise of the non-Western world, particularly China. In Australia the extent and depth of anti-Chinese and rankly Sinophobic hatemongering in the MSM is growing into a frenzy, and, in this sort of atmosphere of moral panic and xenophobic fury, so typical of societies controlled by the Right, the chances of global co-operation seem to me to be less than zero. Indeed I regretfully expect this typical Western aggression to lead to a generalised and disastrous conflict. First the weak and easily picked off, like Libya and Syria, will be crucified (with Egypt lined up as well), then the Big Game, Iran, Russia and China, will be in the sights. Meanwhile, unaddressed, the ecological collapse will intensify.

  13. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I will check it out Philip, thanks. As you are no doubt aware, we in Oz have been living with high temps for a long time. Our strategies revolve around keeping the immediate environment, rather than the individual, relatively cool. That means managing air flow and heating/cooling through day/night control of outside access etc. If babies and the oldies still get too hot, damp sheets in a good air flow work just as well as baths and also save water, ME

  14. Vic says:

    Check out the webcam at the North Pole. The damned thing is about to float away!
    Bear in mind that it sits atop roughly two meters of ice which is also melting from below and that another storm approaches. This is not cool.

  15. fj says:

    Yes, haven’t used AC in NYC in three years and it is dangerous at night.

    Think I partially fried my lungs (18 percent loss) from ozone pollution cycling during a record heatwave three years ago. Took about six months to completely recover.

  16. fj says:

    It should be possible to net zero cool using Zeer pot-in-pot methods.

  17. fj says:

    Unilateral is the only way now.

    Create replicable models.

    Something is not impossible if it already exists.

    NYC must go net zero now.

    Would cost something like 200 billion dollars per year for five years.

  18. Endofmore says:

    think you said it all there Mulga—your best comment to date I think

  19. Endofmore says:

    Since man learned to control fire, and used it at his cave entrance to keep out predators, our existence has depended on the use of heat in some form or other to alter our natural environment, We use heat to save ourselves the inconvenience of walking, heat to save ourselves the nuisance of starving to death, heat to convince ourselves that we can ignore heat, cold, hunger and gravity forever.
    Aircon is just another of those devices we use to fit into our scheme of ‘civilised’ fuelburning existence.
    Unfortunately heat is also being used by the planet to get rid of what has become an infestation by a plague species. Us.

  20. Jacob says:

    Wow. Thanks for the link Vic, those images from the Arctic speak loudly.

    I hope people’s ears/eyes are open.

  21. Jim Speiser says:

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve been all about this Jet Stream thing for a couple of years now. I have no formal training, yet I remember pointing to the TV screen and saying, That ain’t right. A few months later I connected the dots to the Arctic ice melt. Apparently science is just starting to catch up with me! :-) Seriously, it’s the “unknown unknowns” that scare me. What ELSE did we miss in our predictions?

  22. kermit says:

    I wonder if asphalt roads and/or sidewalks could be (practically and inexpensively) be white?

    And solar panel shades over walkways and some other public areas?

  23. Merrelyn Emery says:

    Nice articles Philip, good advice, ME

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I think we simply must remember that no matter how vile a regime (and I certainly do not see the Chinese regime as particularly odious by world standards) and no matter how high a proportion of the inhabitants have been trained in the habits of racism, xenophobia and all-round chauvinism (I’m pleading for leniency for my own country, here)we must remember that we, the entire human race and all the generations to come, are in this together. We hang together, and won’t that be a bonus for our global future, or we’ll all hang separately.

  25. nyc-tornado-10 says:

    Nyc had it’s second highest low temp. ever on friday, at 83 degrees, missing the all-time highest low temp by a degree, which was set, of course, 2 years ago. we had 3 straight calender days over 80 degrees, although the central park highs were 97 – 98 (GW raises low temps more than high temps).

    Remember that new york city has gained over a million people in the last 20 years, and the number of people who have AC has increased, so the gain in power consumption is not as large as it seems, after 3 days over 80 degrees. There are a/c’s today with efficiency ratings over 20 btu/watts, which could replace the current standard of 13 for central and ductless, and only 11 for room a/c, this would greatly reduce demand for power, but unfortunately, efficiency standards are not keeping up with technology. Also, no one makes a room AC that has an efficiency rating over 20, or even 13, in NYC alot of A/c’s are room units (window).

  26. Beth says:

    Thanks – Really something to see. I linked to the time-lapse.

    We are so cooked.

  27. Beth says:

    Correction: Not time-lapse – animation. Still, not sure if I should feel better.

  28. Chris Winter says:

    The DoE has proposed issuing new energy-efficiency standards for ceiling fans (that wouldn’t take effect for two years), and Republicans in the House are already introducing measures to block them. (Google Rep. Blackburn of Tennessee.)

    Their chief argument is that the standards would make fans more expensive, inducing people to use air conditioners more. They might have a point if prices would rise drastically, but that’s unlikely. Also, they don’t seem to have considered the savings from reduced energy use (just like with light bulbs.)

    I haven’t seen any estimates of how much the prices of ceiling fans are expected to increase. But on a Web site where fans are sold, current prices run from just over $70 to about $350 for conventional designs. That’s a lot of headroom (or footroom if you will.) And means-tested subsidies are always possible.

    So this looks like typical behavior for today’s GOP: acting for their paymasters rather than “the general welfare.”