Residents of the Intermountain Southwest are accustomed to hot temperatures. More than 90 percent of households in Arizona use air conditioning, which accounts for a quarter of the energy consumed in homes: more than four times the national average (U.S. Energy Information Administration).
Now imagine a scenario: It’s June, temperatures are normally over 100 degrees F, but a persistent heat wave causes temperatures to soar over 120 degrees F for several days in a row, with nighttime low temperatures at or near 100°F. Everyone is using their A/C, which overloads the system and results in an extended power outage. Now, not only is it scorching, but without power residents have no way to cool off in their homes. What’s more, the lack of power knocks out the wastewater treatment plant, and now residents lack potable water as well.
You may be thinking that this scenario is highly unlikely, and you’re right. But what if? What if over three million people in the Phoenix metro area lost power during a desiccating pre-monsoon heat wave? Or, what if this situation occurred in Las Vegas, where, in addition to a million residents, there are tourists who are unaccustomed to the heat? How do we plan for something like this? How do we manage the cascade of impacts?
These are the types of questions and scenarios discussed at a workshop, entitled “Preparing for High Consequence, Low Probability Events: Heat, Water & Energy in the Southwest,” held in September in the University of Arizona’s new ENR2 building, in Tucson. (read more)