Global cooling?

August 6, 2009

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Ask 10 people what they enjoy most about summer and you"ll get 10 different answers. Ask 10 people how they measure summer, and I"ll bet you"ll also get 10 different, and probably more interesting, answers. I suppose the younger-than-10-years-old set can"t quite wrap their arms around the endless possibilities that come with having 10 or 11 weeks out of school. Athletes probably measure it in the number of baseball games they"ll play, fishermen and boaters measure it in nice weekends at a lake in the middle of nowhere, guys with grills measure it in opportunities to turn raw meat into a carnal delight, tourists in trips to a beach, and so on.

Penny-pinchers and those of us in northern climates measure it in the number of days without air conditioning. Well, maybe that"s an exaggeration, but being fiscally conservative to a fault and averse to artificial cold (believe me, northern Illinois gets enough natural cold during the winter months), I noticed that the summer of 2008 was pretty mild. Not much need for air conditioning last year. So far the summer of 2009 has been cooler still. In fact, many think that this summer hasn"t seemed much like summer at all. Headlines from various locations across the U.S. back me up on this:

  • No sweat; maybe a sweater (Chicago Tribune)
  • In New York, it"s the summer that isn"t (The New York Times)
  • The summer that hot forgot (The Detroit News)
  • Denver weather"s stark contrast to a year ago (The Denver Post)
  • Where's the heat? Los Angeles experiencing a cool summer so far (Los Angeles Times)

    Does this pour cold water all over the global warming/climate change debate? Not necessarily, but then again, if you have delved into it much, you"re likely as mystified as I am. On one hand, some of the information seems laughably insignificant: The average temperature around the world has risen all of 1.4 degrees F since 1880. If you dig Celsius, that"s less than 1 degree. Sheesh! What"s all the fuss about? On the other hand, some of the data is more than alarming: The glacier count in Montana"s Glacier National Park fell from 150 to 25 between 1850 and 2009.

    How about another way to measure cooling or warming trends? One that matters to fabricators and welders and others in manufacturing? I think I found one.

    Temperature changes outdoors lead to thermostat changes indoors, which affect electricity demand. I poked around at the Web site of the Energy Information Administration (part of the Department of Energy) and found that from 1996 to 2007, electricity demand increased 27 percent, from 602,438 to 764,476 megawatts (MW). However, the change has been anything but smooth. It has averaged an increase of 2.2 percent annually, but it increased 7.7 percent from 2004 to 2005 and actually fell in 2001 and in 2004. Are you even more mystified now? I know I am.

    Setting aside the weather and the climate, the trend is clear: Electricity demand is increasing. Electrical utilities in the U.S. are planning to add tens of thousands of megawatts of capacity every year for the next several years. Whether the temps are running hotter or colder than normal, this is good news for anyone involved in supplying components or labor to electric utilities.


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    Eric Lundin

    Editor
    FMA Communications Inc.
    833 Featherstone Road
    Rockford, IL 61107
    Phone: 815-227-8262
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