Today’s Climate Design Data is not enough for sustainable building design
The reason why humans started to build shelters (today we call them buildings) was to protect themselves from the danger posed by animals and weather conditions.
Throughout history, our shelters have evolved together with our knowledge and technology. The more we understood the materials around us and the more we learned about the weather patterns, the better we got at creating our “shelter” technologies. Fast forward to today, we have reached absolutely great heights with building technology. Building design is, now, ready for the next step too.
The influence of micro-climate on a building
Climate, and especially micro-climate - the long term weather conditions specific to a particular place - greatly influence building design. When designing or renovating a building, climatic design conditions and weather files (refered to in this article commonly as "climate design data") impose limitations and challenges to overcome by engineers and architects.
Architects and engineers need to know the micro-climate of the site they are designing for. They need to understand the patterns of solar radiation, air currents, temperature, humidity and precipitation peculiar to this specific, limited area. The aim is not to compete against these factors, but to go along with them; to utilize their beneficial qualities while guarding against their undesirable effects.
Limitations of available climate data for building design
It has become increasingly important to adapt buildings to their surroundings in order to improve their indoor health, energy consumption, and carbon footprint. In the case of Energy Performance Contracts, in which specific building performance is guaranteed, it is even more so true. To minimize the risk of creating ill-performing building designs, climate design data need to be highly accurate. However, we are noticing how current sources fail to provide such data.
Inaccuracy due to distance
The first issue is that most of today’s climate design data come from weather stations which are placed at airports, standing far away from an actual building site. Geographical differences between the building site and the weather station alter the micro-climate significantly, and engineers usually don’t have the means of knowing the extent of these differences. In developed countries the average distance to a closest weather station is in the range of tens of kilometers (e.g. in EU it is 22 - 31 km). In developing countries the distance is in the hundreds.
The second issue is that climatic design conditions and weather files are in most cases created from old weather records, not considering the climate evolution of the recent years. The reason is that the creation of the climatic design conditions included in national technical standards (e.g. data for HVAC sizing) is commissioned by governmental organizations on the basis of one-time projects (e.g. in European countries, funding for database updates is provided after more than 10 years on average, if ever). Weather files for energy simulations are, in some cases, created from even older weather records.
The third issue with today’s climate design data is that it is not centralized. The data required for HVAC sizing is different from the data required for energy simulations. The data required for envelope design is different from the data for a renewable energy assessment. Different data needs to be obtained from different organizations, and for international projects, in different countries - making engineers waste their productive time on navigating these resources, collecting relevant data, and in some cases, processing them.
What can I do about it?
The present, however, isn’t at all so grim. We do have the technology now to overcome these barriers. With the combination of climate data from satellites in space, weather stations, and global meteorological models, processed by machine learning algorithms, we can create up-to-date climate design datasets for any particular site worldwide and any particular design purpose. Thus freeing engineers' time to do what they do best - designing the future. You can find out what accuracy MeteoInsight achieved doing exactly this on our validation page.
The impact of climate change creates the need to design buildings conforming to the climate evolution of their respective sites. While current sources of climate design data fail to provide insight into the climate change on a local level, satellite-enhanced climate design data are set to accelerate the transition towards carbon-neutral cities.
One of the most burning topics of our time is climate change. Literally. In terms of the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the Architecture and Engineering industry has a big role to play. Let’s explore where we are and what we can do to create more resilient and sustainable solutions when designing and renovating our cities.
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