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Two Degree Temperature Increase From AC Units Has Heavy Impact

Arizonians are staring down a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. The weather in Phoenix has been unprecedentedly scorching, with temperatures rising as high as 110°F–10 degrees hotter than last year’s average. Naturally as a result, people are going to turn their air conditioning on full blast. The problem here, according to Arizona State University research, is that AC units are measurably raising the temperature of the outside air, because they blast hot air out and replace it with cooler air. 

Thus, the hotter Arizona gets, the more people will use their AC. The more they use their AC, the hotter the temperature will become.

According to the study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres, the waste heat from AC units is raising the nighttime temperature of Phoenix by about 2 °F — a tiny, but not insignificant amount.

“One to two degrees matters,” said study co-author and Arizona State University mathematician Alex Mahalov. “In July, the average temperature was one degree higher, and my bill is $30 more. So now if we have 1 million households in the state of Arizona, multiplied by 30, $30 million per month. In waste heat.”

That’s not to mention the fact that two degrees represents about 1,200 megawatt-hours of extra electricity being consumed. Plus, it’s estimated that air conditioning already sucks up about 50% of a grid’s total electricity capacity. 

Besides having an economic and environmental impact, extreme heat can also be deadly. According to the National Weather Service, “Heat is one of the leading weather-related killer in the United States, resulting in hundreds of fatalities each year.”

This heat cycle only compounds the temperature problem facing cities. Thanks to the urban heat island effect, many major cities are already literal hot spots. While some urban structures do have metal roofs that reflect the sun’s rays, there are even more dark, paved areas that soak up the sun’s heat instead of regulating it like the vegetation and wetlands they’ve displaced. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the urban heat island effect can increase a city’s temperature by as much as 22°F at night. 

With such a mortifying problem at hand, it’d be wise to look into alternative ways to cool homes down. Whether it be to install more energy efficient windows, or simply using the AC less, the study has made it apparent that blasting air conditioning is not the smartest way to beat the heat.

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