How Cities Can Design to Avoid Urban Heat

As the Earth heats up, cities continue to be major contributors via the urban heat island effect. We briefly delve into some solutions and what cities may want to consider when it comes to current and future design.

What Happened?

A recent study out of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego revealed the heat preserved and emitted by metropolitan areas is influencing winter warming and climate change worldwide.

So What?

The team of researchers explained heat generated by daily activities in modern cities creates a warming effect that impacts the jet stream and other atmospheric patterns, particularly noticeable during winter months. The study found urban heat from metropolitan areas in the Northern Hemisphere can increase winter temperatures but up to 1.0 degrees C, which can affect cities halfway across the globe demonstrating the impact of energy consumption and heat worldwide through atmospheric circulation change. The researchers found energy consumption such as heating buildings and motor vehicles generates waste heat which alters the earth’s atmospheric makeup and patterns.

What Is Urban Heat Waste?

UC San Diego researchers define waste heat as energy released into the atmosphere through unnatural processes or channels. Human energy consumption converts dormant energy sources into the atmosphere through burning of fossil fuels and other activities. In 2006, 6.7 terawatts of the 16 terawatts of energy was consumed in 86 metropolitan cities in the Northern Hemisphere, which lie below major atmospheric jet streams which transport the generated heat to other parts of the world.

The effect of urban heat waste is different from the urban heat island effect which occurs when densely populated cities report higher temperatures than less populated regions due to human activities and energy consumption. While urban heat waste has reportedly increased winter temperatures, it also creates a counterbalance by changing atmospheric systems to cool other regions of the globe by 1.0 degrees C in the fall. Overall, urban heat waste has increased global temperatures by an average of 0.1 degree C. Researchers recommend municipalities focus more on operating with renewable energy source such as wind and solar power to decrease the amount of urban heat waste dispersed into the atmosphere.

Building Efficiently

At a recent engineering seminar, experts discussed the many ways building design can help lower energy consumption contributing to urban heat waste production. Examples of such implementations include:

  • Sloped ceilings and light shelves to bounce light into the interior while reducing glare
  • Double or triple glazing window panes to prevent air leakage and maintain interior temperatures
  • Smaller windows to reduce heating from the sun and air leakage
  • Thermal insulation barriers added to aluminum structures to help reduce heat transferred in and out of the building
  • Building designs to create wind funnels that keep air moving, lower temperatures and rely less on air conditioning units

Similarly, expert panelists at the Resilience and Risk in Coastal Regions forum discussed ways climate change and severe weather patterns are impacting urban planning. Experts suggested:

  • Critical infrastructure provide more compartmentalized service so entire communities are not impacted by power outages or other damage
  • Evaluating Land use to determine how/if certain structures should be rebuilt
  • Monitoring water and sewer system levels with regard to rising sea levels
  • Change infrastructure financing for consistent support of upgrades and weatherization of important structures

Other Energy Savers is following cities adjusting their energy consumption to reduce carbon footprints and improve cost savings.[/dw-post-more]

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