Dense urban areas amplify the effects of higher temperatures

A recent study conducted by Lund University in Sweden highlights the significant impact of dense urban areas on exacerbating the effects of higher temperatures, creating heat islands within cities. This phenomenon makes cities more susceptible to extreme climate events, necessitating substantial investments in the electricity network for cooling during heat waves and heating during cold snaps.

The study, published in Nature Energy, introduces a modeling platform that integrates climate, building, and energy system models to enable simulation and evaluation of cities’ energy transition. The objective is to enhance cities’ resilience to future climate changes while accommodating urban densification. The researchers particularly focused on extreme weather events like heat waves and cold snaps, creating simulations of urban microclimates.

The findings demonstrate that high-density areas contribute to the formation of urban heat islands, intensifying the impact of extreme climate events, particularly in southern Europe. For instance, urban temperature can increase by 17% while wind speed decreases by 61%. Urban densification, which is a recommended strategy for achieving the UN’s energy and climate goals, may increase the vulnerability of the electricity network. Therefore, it is crucial to consider these factors when designing urban energy systems.

The developed framework bridges the gap between future climate models and building and energy analyses. This model provides valuable insights into the influence of future climate uncertainty and extreme weather events, specifically High Impact Low Probability (HILP) events, at the city level. The model addresses questions regarding the effects of extreme weather events, the role of urban development in exacerbating or mitigating these effects, and the connections between various factors.

The study reveals that energy demand peaks in the system increase more significantly when considering extreme microclimates. For example, cooling demand can increase by 68% in Stockholm and 43% in Madrid on the hottest day of the year. Failure to account for these factors can lead to incorrect estimations of cities’ energy requirements, potentially resulting in power shortages and blackouts.

The researchers note a discrepancy between current urban climate models and the outcomes of their calculations when incorporating complex urban morphology. Neglecting the urban climate in assessments could lead to an underestimation of cooling needs by approximately 28% in Madrid, for instance.

The study emphasizes the growing interest among countries in understanding extreme weather events, energy issues, and their impact on public health. However, there is a lack of methods for quantifying the effects of climate change and planning suitable adaptations, particularly concerning extreme weather events and spatial-temporal climate variations.

The researchers believe their efforts can contribute to enhancing societies’ preparedness for climate change. They call for future research to explore the relationship between urban density and climate change in energy forecasts. Additionally, innovative methods should be developed to enhance energy flexibility and climate resilience in cities, which is currently a key focus for their research team.

Source: Lund University

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