Global Warming Impacts on Heating and Cooling Degree-Days in the United States

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Yana Petri and Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution for Science, Washington, DC, United States
Anthropogenic climate change is expected to significantly alter residential air conditioning and space heating requirements, which account for 41% of U.S. household energy expenditures. The degree-day method can be used for reliable estimation of weather related building energy consumption and costs, as well as outdoor climatic thermal comfort. Here, we use U.S. Climate Normals developed by NOAA based on weather station observations along with Climate Model Intercomparison Project phase 5 (CMIP5) multi-model ensemble simulations. We add the projected change in heating and cooling degree-days based on the climate models to the estimates based on the NOAA U.S. Climate Normals to project future heating and cooling degree-days. We find locations with the lowest and highest combined index of cooling (CDDs) and heating degree-days (HDDs) for the historical period (1981 – 2010) and future period (2080 – 2099) under the Representation Concentration Pathway 8.5 (RCP8.5) climate change scenario. Our results indicate that in both time frames and among the lower 48 states, coastal areas in the West and South California will have the smallest degree-day sum (CDD + HDD), and hence from a climatic perspective become the best candidates for residential real estate. The Rocky Mountains region in Wyoming, in addition to northern Minnesota and North Dakota, will have the greatest CDD + HDD. While global warming is projected to reduce the median heating and cooling demand (- 5%) at the end of the century, CDD + HDD will decrease in the North, with an opposite effect in the South. This work could be helpful in deciding where to live in the United States based on present and future thermal comfort, and could also provide a basis for estimates of changes in heating and cooling energy demand.