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Wow, It Is Hot, and It Is Not Even August Yet!

Thermography is often described as both art and science. While everything we do is based on the laws of physical reality, much of our work is interpretation of how those laws apply. I would suggest a similar conundrum exists for our understanding of climate change, formerly known as “global warming.” What is happening to the planet is all based on good, hard science, but the interrelationships are so complex that our interpretation of the data is often challenging.

Understanding Peak Use of Energy
Personally. I find it disturbing that many still reject outright the basic premise that the climate of the planet is changing due to human influence. For many, there is probably a naturaland understandable skepticism with science. Too often, we forget the basis of all science is not simply to prove a theory true, but rather to test it and test it in an effort to find it not (yet) false.

The map for temperatures across the United States this week shows a great deal of red, orange and yellow. Even people who don’t believe in global climate change have no problem understanding this means it is hot. What will August bring? Map courtesy NOAA.

Whether we believe in climate change or not, it has been a very hot week in most of the United States. As a consequence, there are more air conditioners running longer and more energy being used to power them. At the same time our buildings are filled with little heaters, called incandescent light bulbs, and are constructed in ways that the thermal envelopes are quite inefficient at slowing the flow of heat into our living spaces.

An often overlooked consequence is that the summer peak use of energy keeps getting pushed higher and higher. The result is that more power plants and added sources of more costly energy to fire them must be come on line to meet our needs. In the end, the cost of meeting a peak demand in this way is immense.

Managing Use of Energy
Thermographers are, by definition, involved in managing the use of energy on the demand side. Our efforts—whether with building insulation or the electrical and mechanical equipment used everywhere in our societies—result in less energy being used. A “negawatt” utility, one based on meeting some of the increased demand by using less rather than building more power plants, will not by itself, be able to reverse global climate change, but most scientific models suggest it can help flatten the curve of change dramatically. That can buy us time to find and implement other solutions.

The bank of south-facing, single glazed windows basically becomes a radiant heater throughout much of the summer. Rather than planting a tree or replacing the windows with low-E glazing, the homeowners purchased an air-conditioning system that they frequently use! Image courtesy Michael Stuart.

Smart metering is also part of the solution. We’ll be able to make more intelligent choices—with feedback directly from our pocket books—about when to use power. We can also obtain savings from lower rates by making some of our needs available to be interrupted. If our home, for instance, is well insulated and air sealed, we might allow the power company to turn off the AC for an hour on the hottest day of the summer knowing we can coast through the thermal swing without becoming too uncomfortable. You can’t do that if you haven’t dealt with the basics of making your home efficient.

We all understand the concept of hanging out in the shade on a hot day. This thermal image shows a nearly 40F difference between the hot blacktop and the grass lawn under a large shade tree. Trees and green spaces are often very viable solutions to the consequences of climate change.

Being Part of the Solution
So thermographers should take pride in being part of the solution to what is, in my humble opinion, the greatest challenge our species have ever faced. I think we can also use our thermal images to help people better understand and interpret the data related to climate change. I suggest we all take our images out this week and find some nice, cool shade in which to contemplate what more we can do to help slow climate change.

Thinking Thermally,
John Snell—The Snell Group, a
Fluke Thermal Imaging Blog content partner

5 comments to Wow, It Is Hot, and It Is Not Even August Yet!

  • Michael Stuart

    See that little “blue area” in the upper left-hand corner of the map(AKA: Puget Sound area of the Pacific Northwest of the USA)? Summer, and “hot” does not appear to have arrived here yet… For whatever thermal reasons, we have been experiencing a prolonged “June-uary”… and it is well into July. The excessive heat on the east coast of the US is definitely being offset by cooler-than-normal conditions up here. It would be interesting to see some recent “global” heat and infrared maps.

  • I have a window, looking directly to the west. In the afternoon it starts to heat the whole room! 🙂

  • What I also mentioned in my appartment, that I have many heaters inside: computer, TV, gas oven, gas water heater, refrigerator, even electric cattle. They all produce heat. And if during winter this heat is “useful”, as with good insulation it can also play role in heat balance of my appartment (I really felt this during time, when central heating was not switched on yet, but the outside temperature was quite low!), during summer – it is the heat, which is necessary to take out from apartment. And here the air conditiner seems the only way to take this heat away. Even if I insulate the walls and put covers on my windows in sunny days.

  • Michael, yes, and that is why the term “climate change” is more accurate that the old way we described it all using “global warming.” While the overall, net result IS warming, the short term often simply brings us extremes and unusual weather systems. The planet’s weather is so complex it is truly beyond any of us to figure it ALL out perfectly.

    Alexander, where are you located? Certainly the “phantom loads” you mention are a problem in many homes in the summer and more often than not a costly way to heat the home in the cooler parts of the year. We need to use more smart switches—ones that truly shut OFF an appliance—and better manage the energy use of those we feel we really need.

    There are two keys to being cool in the summer season. First, build in thermal mass to absorb and thus moderate the heat. Second, if nights are cool and or clear, use them to actively cool the building. These solutions are not always easy or viable but are good goals. Insulation is important as are light, reflective exterior colors and radiant barriers in attic areas. Again, these are general recommendations and the specifics for your home or mine may be more challenging to implement successfully.

    Thanks to both of you for your comments.

  • I live in Ukraine. And problems related to energy are extremely sharp now. And with global warming it became more obvious during recent years. The problem is also, that many houses are built without taking in account any aspects of energy saving. So very often it is possible to tell about problems in any house even without thermal imaging. 🙂