Burning gas to deal with the heat is kind of like appointing an arsonist as fire chief. The actions of modern homosapiens are becoming increasingly illogical in a quest for convenience unseen in all its history. Such reflections were provoked in me by a short news item I heard on the radio. It read as follows:
“Spain has seen itself forced to switch on all its gas-fired power plants to cope with increased electricity demand due to high temperatures, Reuters news agency reported, citing the industry association Sedigas. The country, like a number of others, has been gripped by a heat wave that has pushed temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius. Increased use of air conditioners has led to increased electricity consumption.”
Here are a few highlights of the paradox – using gas-fired thermal power plants (TPPs) to generate electricity, which is then used to run air conditioners:
Thermal power plants that burn gas produce large emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2). It is these emissions that are considered to be a major factor in global warming and climate change.
The process of generating electricity in CHP plants also involves significant energy losses in the form of heat. This loss rate can be significant – between 30% and 70%, depending on the technology of the CHP plant.
Air conditioners run on electricity and consume a large amount of energy, especially during the summer months when thermal power plants are often at their most active due to increased electrical load.
The paradox is that to cool our rooms with air conditioners, we use electricity that is produced from fuels that cause climate change. In other words, we are using one form of polluting energy (the fuels in the power plant) to deal with another form of polluting emission (the heat emissions from the air conditioners).
Solutions to avoid the paradox can be technological or behavioral. Technological solutions include switching to cleaner and more efficient sources of energy, such as renewables (solar and wind) or using modern, efficient power plants with emissions capture systems. Behavioural solutions include raising awareness of energy efficiency and the use of air conditioners on a more moderate scale where possible.
This paradox only underscores to homosapiens the need to transition to more sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of producing and using energy, which is a key factor in addressing the challenges of climate change.