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Themes > Climate > Climate Applications

Energy Sector

Energy is at the heart of economic and social development and historical climate data is key to determining the nature, and help  locate and design, better energy infrastructure.

Energy use and Climate

Wind Turbines
Wind Turbines
(Image: Hans Hillewaert)

Most humans are comfortable in a relatively narrow temperature range from about 15°C to 25°C. This comfort zone is reflected in the energy usage patterns of modern cities. When air temperatures move outside this range, energy demand increases; for heating as the temperature falls below about 18°C and for cooling as the temperature rises above about 22°C.

The degree-day is a useful statistic that has been developed to assist the monitoring of energy usage and prediction. The degree-days can be either the accumulated departures of daytime temperature below a specified threshold (the heating degree-days) or above a specified threshold (the cooling degree-days). Thus, if a winter is milder than normal there are fewer heating degree-days and less demand for energy for home and office heating and vice versa.

Energy companies use the link between climate variability and energy demand for supply planning to guard against shortages during the most critical times.  For this reason, energy companies are the most active users of seasonal climate forecasts and continue to use these products in their seasonal planning.

Climate and Energy Infrastructure

The ability to generate electricity centrally and to distribute it where it is needed has been a significant factor in the development of cities. Complex distribution networks have evolved to meet the various needs, and grids of high voltage lines cross the countryside linking communities. Often the power lines that service individual buildings are hung from street poles and other support structures. Climate statistics are one of the key factors for planning the energy generation and distribution systems, and for ensuring that outages through disruption of the production and transmission infrastructure due to extreme weather events are minimized.

Renewable Energy and Climate

Direct solar conversion, harnessing of hydro, wind and wave energies can in certain circumstances, replace significant quantities of non-renewable energy sources. A major challenge for managers of hydroelectric facilities is to match energy generation to seasonal and long-term water supplies, and often to competing water demands for urban and irrigation needs. During periods of drought the demand for electricity has to be balanced against the need to conserve scarce water supplies. Long climatic records on the year-to-year variability and the duration and intensity of past drought events are essential to the design process and are crucially important in effective operation of water infrastructure.

Wind Power

Small wind systems were widely used early in the 20th century for domestic electricity generation and pumping water, but were displaced due to the convenience of petrol or diesel generators. Large wind generators now offer economic power supplies in climatologically favourable locations of north western Europe and the United States. Long records describing the diurnal and seasonal patterns of local winds are essential for planning the economics of a wind generation project such as the off shore wind farm pictured above.

Solar Energy

The most successful use of solar energy has been in direct heating of water for domestic and space heating purposes. Attempts have been made to generate significant quantities of electricity from photovoltaic solar panels. Large-scale solar systems have demonstrated the feasibility of photovoltaic conversion and their location is determined be the use of solar climate data.       

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