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Funding awarded to develop 85 year weather forecast

Researchers have been awarded a £1m Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) grant to create a time series of predicted hourly weather from now until the end of the century, in order to better understand how building designs interact with different weather conditions.

The research project, featuring experts from the University of Exeter, the University of Bath and Newcastle University, will transform the way building scientists and engineers consider how differing weather conditions affect the built environment.

In 2003, more than 70,000 people died across Europe due to a widespread heat wave. The cause of this many deaths was not just the extreme weather conditions, but the designs of the buildings not being resilient enough to deal with the conditions and subsequently protect the occupants from the external weather conditions. It is hoped this research will improve our resilience to future such events by improving understandings of the relationship between building design and the weather.

There are growing concerns about what might happen in homes if the energy grid was disrupted during a cold snap – people could be left in rapidly cooling houses and it is unknown how quickly the homes would reach a critical temperature. Answering this question is a key element of energy security given the UK’s reliance on imported gas and recent geopolitical tensions with Russia. 

A significant part of this project will be to create an hourly time series of predicted weather for the next 85 years until 2100, some of these will represent typical weather, others extreme conditions such as heat waves and cold snaps.

Dr Matt Eames, from the Centre of Energy and the Environment at the University of Exeter said: “We know that rapid deviations in normal conditions have the greatest impacts on the health of building occupants.

“By better capturing these events in design weather data, architects and engineers will be able to stress test their building designs to the likelihood of over or under heating, stress on people’s thermoregulatory systems, thermal comfort, and energy requirements.

“Furthermore, by including the effects of climate change building designers will be able generate adaptation strategies and cost them more effectively.”

Professor David Coley, Director of the Centre for Energy and the Design of Environments (EDEn) in the Department of Architecture & Civil Engineering at the University of Bath, and project lead said: “In western civilisations we know the greatest contributor to weather-related deaths are short term extreme temperature changes, including both increases and decreases.

“These temporary temperature variations account for more weather-related deaths than all other weather events combined including lighting strikes, rain, flooding, hurricanes and tornados.

“It is important that we recognise the role buildings play in responding to and dealing with extreme weather conditions – buildings can keep people alive during extreme weather events, but they can also kill. The time series of example hourly weather we are devising in conjunction with testing these variations on different building designs will help us to better develop building designs that can safely and comfortably house occupants and avoid weather-related preventable deaths in the future.”

The different weather characteristics will then be tested on over 1200 different building designs in order to discover how the characteristics of external temperature, wind and sun cause issues for occupants, such as over demand on central heating systems and air conditioning.

From applying this 85 year forecast to the different building examples, the researchers for the first time will be able to understand a weather event such as a heat wave not just in terms of the external characteristics like duration or temperature, but also the implications of such an event on the internal environment of a building and the impact of its occupants.

It is widely accepted that climate change will have a significant impact on UK building design and energy use in the near and distant future. With predicted temperature changes being large enough to make some buildings become uncomfortable or even fail certain regulations, the need for a better understanding of future weather trends in relation to building design is imperative in ensuring buildings become sustainable.

Date: 31 July 2015

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