Climate change is the biggest threat facing our planet and will have a significant impact on building design and energy use. Our research is responding to this impact by creating weather files for the UK that can predict weather in 2080. These files provide, for the first time anywhere in the world, highly localised weather data mapped over a seven-day period at a spatial resolution of 5km.
Having this critical information will enable designers to assess energy performance and the risk of overheating in buildings under climate change. And this will lead to buildings better designed and constructed to deal with the more frequent extreme weather we expect to encounter in the future.
The hidden problem of overheating
For human survival, one of the most worrying aspects of climate change is the expected progression in extreme temperatures. Heatwaves are predicted to become more common as our atmosphere warms. Ensuring that buildings and systems have been tested with future weather predictions is an important strategy in reducing morbidity.
Overheating is a problem in the UK because, unlike in other countries, its homes and buildings are not designed to keep people cool. Around 20% of homes in England already overheat in normal summer conditions, and 80% of the UK’s housing stock will still be in use in 2050 when we can expect more extreme weather.
The greatest impact of exposure to high indoor temperatures will be felt in those over 65 years, or with disabilities or pre-existing medical conditions. In the last twenty years there has been a 53.7% increase in heat-related mortality in people over 65 years, reaching 296,000 deaths in 2018 worldwide.1
Creating localised future weather for the built environment
The construction industry and building scientists use weather files for thermal modelling of buildings. But, the files currently used only represent average weather and cannot indicate extremes like heatwaves or cold snaps. Until now, these files divided the UK into only 14 regions making accuracy difficult. For example, the whole of the Southwest Peninsular (including up-land areas) is assigned the coastal Plymouth weather file. This leads to a 200% error in estimating annual energy demand.
At Bath, Professor David Coley and Dr Sukumar Natarajan are addressing this through an EPSRC funded project: 'The creation of localised current and future weather for the built environment' (COLBE). They have created a time series of weather in 2080 for 11,000 postcode locations in the UK for public download. By simply entering a post code, individuals can download a variety of computer files, each of which contain a year of possible local weather, now or in the future. This will greatly help individuals in visualising the impact that climate change could have in their own homes, within their own lifetimes.