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May heat waves broke records around the country and around the world

A man douses himself in a bucket of cold water to beat the heat in Italy. Image Credit: Susan Jane Golding/Flickr
A man douses himself in a bucket of cold water to beat the heat in Italy. Image Credit: Susan Jane Golding/Flickr

In Spain, the temperature peaked at 111 degrees Fahrenheit over the weekend. In several U.S. states thermometers also read over 100 degrees. And India has been ravaged by one of the worst heatwaves in the nation's recorded history.

Heatwaves across the country and around the world have grown more frequent, more severe, and are occurring earlier in the season than ever before.

Since 2010, more than 6,500 people in India died in the country's heatwaves.

And climate change is making them worse, according to new studies from scientists.

“Spells of heat have always been a feature of the region’s pre-monsoon climate during April and May,” Dr. Nikos Christidis, a researcher at the UK's Meteorological Office, told The Guardian. “However, our study shows that climate change is driving the heat intensity of these spells.”

And in the U.S. a heatwave in the Pacific Northwest last year killed anywhere from 195 to 450 people according to a report from The New York Times.

Now, as a new heatwave breaks across the South and East Coast, states are once again prepping for spikes in power demand, potential outages and health risks.

The extreme heat actually killed one runner in the Brooklyn Half Marathon competition on Sunday and hospitalized another 15 people.

These heatwaves aren't just more intense, they're happening earlier in the year than before -- with summer stretching into traditional Spring months and warming weather sticking around til later in the year as well.

“The negative consequences of the continued burning of fossil fuels are now evident and can be felt also in wealthy countries...” Dr. Friederike Otto, at Imperial College London and the lead of the World Weather Attribution group, told The Guardian. “Unless the world drastically reduces its use of oil, gas and coal, the impacts of human-caused climate change will continue to worsen.”

The cruel irony is that many of the technologies currently used to beat the heat are very energy intensive and contain harmful chemicals which can damage the environment. Using air conditioners can actually accelerate climate change.

That's why technologists and investors are developing and funding more energy efficient ways to control the temperature in buildings and keep folks cool during deadly heatwaves.

"We have a lot of mature or nearly mature tech, so much of the challenge is distribution [and] reducing the cost of install," wrote Shaun Abrahamson, one of the co-founders and a managing director at the climate-focused investment fund, Third Sphere.

Some examples of startups in the space include Flair, which provides control mechanisms for electric heating and cooling systems so that they can integrate with the power grid better. Or Gradient which is a next generation heating and cooling heat pump, which can be installed by homeowners or renters instead of requiring a professional electrician. Finally, Singularity Energy provides realtime signals on the carbon intensity of energy use on the grid, so that HVAC can be switched from one source of power to another to reduce its emissions without compromising demand, Abrahamson said.

"On the technical side, beyond electrifying heating/cooling, much of the debate seems to focus on efficiency, but it's also important to consider installed cost. For example an electric water heater is a very responsive load that can be coordinated with solar, even though it's much less efficient than hot water heat pump," Abrahamson wrote in an email. "[With electric resistance] the advantage is that it's cheap - to manufacture and install. Similarly air source heat pump is less efficient than ground source, but it you can cut the costs of ground source installs, it will become more competitive. So we're paying attention to things that change the unit manufacturing cost as well as install costs. "

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