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Publication Date
11 March 2022

Heterogeneous Climate Change Impacts on Electricity Demand in World Cities Circa Mid-Century

Climate change adaptation will shift cities’ electricity consumption, but the effect depends on the structure of energy demand in addition to the heat extremes that cities will experience.
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Cooling will be crucial to adapt to climate change, but will increase the demand for electricity in cities during hot hours, depending on how much urban residents invest in energy-consuming air conditioners. Photo by StockSnap.

Prior research indicates a latitudinal gradient in climate impacts on energy consumption as temperatures rise, with increased demand for cooling as a protective adaptation to extreme heat exposures. We assess the net electricity demand consequences of decreased cool-season heating and increased warm-season cooling in 36 world cities. We empirically model the hourly co-variation of electric load with temperature and combine the resulting reduced-form response surfaces with temporally downscaled projections of mid-century temperatures simulated by 21 global climate models (GCMs) to project the impacts of climate change on urban electricity demand. Electricity demand responses and resulting climate change impacts under vigorous (RCP 8.5) warming are heterogenous, with shifts in annual per capita demand of −2.7% to 5.7%, and peak per capita demand of -3% to 9.5%, at the multi-GCM median. Compared to the tropics, impacts in mid-latitude cities are larger in magnitude, a result which highlights the importance of the structure of electricity demand.


Cities, home to 68% of the world’s population by 2050, are on the front lines of climate adaptation. Peak and total electricity demand are anticipated to increase worldwide as increasing extreme high temperatures, amplifying the demand for adaptation via space cooling. We address the critical need to understand the drivers of demand at the fine spatial and temporal scales at which urban residents make adaptation decisions. Amplification of peak and total electricity demand will be concentrated in mid-latitude, temperate cities, mostly in North America. Although tropical urban areas experience larger increases in high-temperature exposures, their less temperature-responsive electricity demand profiles result in smaller impacts. The upshot is that climate change-driven amplification of electricity demand is unlikely to keep growing as one moves from the mid-latitudes to the equator.


Using a unique dataset of electric load and weather over multiple years in 36 world cities, we characterize the response of electricity demand to temperature on hourly time scales, and couple the results with GCM temperature projections that we temporally downscale to hourly series using a novel technique. Across cities, mid-century warming could increase urban electricity demand by up to 5.7% in total and 9.5% at the peak, impacts that are largest in the mid-latitudes, as opposed to the tropics.

Point of Contact
John Weyant
Stanford University
Funding Program Area(s)