Cold cities less sustainable than warm cities, research suggests

Mar 27, 2013

(Phys.org) —Living in colder climates in the US is more energy demanding than living in warmer climates. This is according to Dr Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan, who has published new research today, 28 March, in Environmental Research Letters.

Dr Sivak has calculated that climate control in the coldest large in the country – Minneapolis – is about three-and-a-half times more energy demanding than in the warmest large metropolitan area – Miami.

Dr Sivak calculated this difference in using three parameters: the number of heating or cooling degree days in each area; the efficiencies of heating and cooling appliances; and the efficiencies of power-generating plants.

Not included in the analysis were the energy used to extract fuels from the ground, the losses during , and .

"It has been taken for a fact that living in the warm regions of the US is less sustainable than living in the cold regions, based partly on the perceived energy needs for climate control; however, the present findings suggest a re-examination of the relative sustainability of living in warm versus ."

Heating degree days (HDDs) and cooling degree days (CDDs) are climatological measures that are designed to reflect the demand for energy needed to heat or cool a building. They are calculated by comparing the mean daily with 18°C.

A day with a mean temperature of 10°C would have 8 HDDs and no CDDs, as the temperature is 8°C below 18°C. Analogously, a day with a mean temperature of 23°C would have 5 CDDs and no HDDs.

Based on a previous study, Dr Sivak showed that Minneapolis has 4376 heating degree days a year compared to 2423 days in Miami.

In the study, Dr Sivak used a single measure for the of heating and cooling appliances, as most are currently rated using different measures so they cannot be directly compared. His calculations showed that a typical air conditioner is about four times more energy efficient than a typical furnace.

"In simple terms, it takes less energy to cool a room down by one degree than it does to heat it up by one degree," said Dr Sivak.

Grouping together climatology, the efficiency of heating and cooling appliances, and the efficiency of power-generating plants, Dr Sivak showed that Minneapolis was substantially more energy demanding than Miami.

"In the US, the energy consumption for air conditioning is of general concern but the required energy to heat is often taken for granted. Focus should also be turned to the opposite end of the scale – living in cold climates such as in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Rochester, Buffalo and Chicago is more energy demanding, and therefore less sustainable from this point of view, than living in warm climates such as in Miami, Phoenix, Tampa, Orlando and Las Vegas," Dr Sivak concluded.

Explore further: Going nuts? Turkey looks to pistachios to heat new eco-city

More information: Air conditioning versus heating: climate control is more energy demanding in Minneapolis than in Miami, Michael Sivak 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 014050 iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/8/1/014050/article

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User comments : 19

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NotParker
2.1 / 5 (21) Mar 27, 2013
If only global warming was real ... it would save energy.
Maggnus
3.3 / 5 (14) Mar 27, 2013
If only stupid could be fixed...it would save having it so blatantly displayed.
eeag06
2.7 / 5 (12) Mar 27, 2013
First post makes a logical statement given the premise of the article. Second poster can't think of anything to counter that.
Telekinetic
2.4 / 5 (17) Mar 27, 2013
NotParker's education puts him in a position to correct thousands of the world's climatologists concluding that global warming is real.
His GED.
zerb
3.1 / 5 (11) Mar 27, 2013
I'm shocked! A cold climate uses more energy than a temperate climate! I don't need a scientist to do a study to tell me that, I can just look at my utility bills. This is not science!
packrat
2.8 / 5 (16) Mar 27, 2013
I wish I could get a high paying job where writing a paper in which the information contained is already obvious to anyone that's ever lived in both the north and the south. Evidently it takes a Doctorate these days to understand what the average person can already tell you. You people can vote me down all you want but I'm getting really tired of seeing articles about studies this stupid where the answer is obvious to anyone with even a small amount of common sense.
Telekinetic
2.5 / 5 (13) Mar 27, 2013
"It has been taken for a fact that living in the warm regions of the US is less sustainable than living in the cold regions, based partly on the perceived energy needs for climate control; however, the present findings suggest a re-examination of the relative sustainability of living in warm versus cold climates."

But you see, packrat, it isn't as obvious as one would think. Air conditioning is hugely expensive being only electric, and oil or natural gas heating used to be relatively cheap in cold climates. Not anymore, with fuel costs doubling and tripling within the past two decades. It seems that it would be more efficient to wear climate controlled suits, and keep an interior environment in low energy use mode. Yes, the dog will also have to wear one.
Lurker2358
2.5 / 5 (16) Mar 27, 2013
I wish I could get a high paying job where writing a paper in which the information contained is already obvious to anyone...


Fixed, and seconded.

The author didn't even include the cost of shoveling snow and snow plows, which use fossil fuels by the dozens of gallons per day of use. He was just using household climate control. Then you have salt mines for all the road salting, which de-stabilizes land where it is mined from, and causes sinkholes and such, etc. All for the north...Like that town where they have to manual break up the ice in a river every year, because the bridge is built too low and the ice would break the bridge...just stupid waste of energy and other resources...

Yeah I could do this guy's job, easily.

Study: The sky appears blue to most people.

Study: Water is wet.

Study: Driving in the rain is more risky than driving on a clear day.
ODesign
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 28, 2013
Severely flawed analysis or reporting, but the conclusion calling for a need to further examine energy efficiency on a city wide scale is correct.

Left out is that most of the heat in large buildings comes free from non-heating appliances like light bulbs, fax machines, computers, etc. Every watt of electricity going into a room or building turns into heat whether it goes through a space heater or a photocopier.

Also environmental temperature, not very relevant to the question of sustainable cities, since it's easy to build heat conservation into city architecture, but much harder to build heat dissipating into city architecture. Also it's impractical and much much more expensive in energy to move a city from one climate to another. Even encouraging population migration reversals will result in so much churn losses that the thermal heating/cooling concerns will be dwarfed by comparison.
Pkunk_
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 28, 2013
Perhaps the Americans should let all the Mexicans to move into the USA as they are ready and willing. And then swap countries with the Mexicans.
Chicago, Michigan etc. swap places with Mexico city , Cancun etc. Everyone is happy and you can now fight global warming , one "warm" city at a time.
DirtySquirties
2 / 5 (10) Mar 28, 2013
Wow. Is this a 'No s--t!' study, or what?!
Pkunk_
1.8 / 5 (9) Mar 28, 2013
The author didn't even include the cost of shoveling snow and snow plows, which use fossil fuels by the dozens of gallons per day of use. He was just using household climate control. Then you have salt mines for all the road salting, which de-stabilizes land where it is mined from, and causes sinkholes and such, etc. All for the north...Like that town where they have to manual break up the ice in a river every year, because the bridge is built too low and the ice would break the bridge...just stupid waste of energy and other resources...

Are you including the cost of cooling . A lot of energy is used down South cooling offices/homes to be at a tolerable temperature.
Not to mention the way food rots, insects proliferate , brains atrophy from overheating, even the electricity grid wires tend to just melt and breakdown during the summer heatwaves.
Stayed in a high altitide/cold place for 2-3 weeks during peak summer and i loved it . Yeah. the Winters are a bitch but not too long.
triplehelix
2.1 / 5 (11) Mar 28, 2013
"Living in colder climates in the US is more energy demanding than living in warmer climates."

Captain obvious strikes again!
triplehelix
2 / 5 (10) Mar 28, 2013
Okay someone, is simply trolling me and continuously rating me 1/5 for no good reason.

Would the immature person kindly stop doing this, as it's pathetic and doesn't belong on a scientific site, though given some postings, It's barely scientific these days.
packrat
1.8 / 5 (8) Mar 28, 2013
@Pkunk I did, I've lived in Fla, NC, Ill, and Philly and my utility bills , food , fuel costs, etc... has always been cheaper in the south than in the north. I've never heard of grid wires melting in the heat in the south either so I have no idea where you got that from. I will admit we have more problems with bugs (mosquitoes) in the summer but I'll happily trade that for freezing weather 2/3 of the year that people have to deal with in the northern states.
Pkunk_
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 29, 2013
@Pkunk I did, I've lived in Fla, NC, Ill, and Philly and my utility bills , food , fuel costs, etc... has always been cheaper in the south than in the north. I've never heard of grid wires melting in the heat in the south either so I have no idea where you got that from. I will admit we have more problems with bugs (mosquitoes) in the summer but I'll happily trade that for freezing weather 2/3 of the year that people have to deal with in the northern states.

Heh , even in Florida you live almost 30° North of the equator. Go way down and in peak summer the temp hits 50° in peak summer. Tar starts to melt on the road , and you have frequent blackouts due to busted transformers and broken wires.
It's funny how Europeans and Americans think 100°F qualifies as a heat wave. Thats pretty much the normal peak-temperature for large parts of the world. And that's during the "Winter". As I said before . we tend to spend lots of money/energy on cooling down in the real "South".
packrat
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 29, 2013
Living in colder climates in the US is more energy demanding than living in warmer climates.
The electricity consumption of cooling air-conditioning is quite comparable to heating, especially when the modern heat pumps are considered. The global blackouts of electric grid due its overloading come during summer, not winter.


Yea but your comparing apples and oranges here. Almost ALL air conditioning is run but electricity when heating is covered by electricity, gas, fuel oil, coal and even wood in some areas.

@punk Yea but I've lived in Southern Fla and that's as far south as I'm going to live at. Yea, it's hotter farther down in the day time but the nights are colder too closer to the equator unless your living in a jungle... 6 of one, half a dozen of the other....Actually it tended to be cooler down in S Fla. than where I live now in N.C. as we almost always had a sea breeze blowing across the state down there.
Steven_Anderson
1.4 / 5 (8) Mar 30, 2013
It seems odd that the article says it takes more energy to increase temperature by 1 degree than it does to lower it by 1 degree. Doesn't the laws of thermodynamics say the opposite should be true? Reducing the entropy state of an area rather than increasing the entropy in an area? http://rawcell.com
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 31, 2013
But you see, packrat, it isn't as obvious as one would think. Air conditioning is hugely expensive being only electric, and oil or natural gas heating used to be relatively cheap in cold climates. Not anymore, with fuel costs doubling and tripling within the past two decades
But you see, tk, your thinking is outdated. Natural gas heat pumps and HVAC for commercial and residential use are on the rise and so are NG power plants. And NG prices have dropped precipitously. So it's not as obvious as you seem to think.

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