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Degree Days Predictions for 2020: The Impact of COVID-19

Summer 2020 has now officially begun, meaning warm weather is a given for the next few months. Additionally, due to La Niña development, this summer is expected to be near average or hotter across the Lower 48, according to the latest outlook issued by The Weather Company, an IBM Business. Much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic can anticipate above-average temperatures from June through August. Due to these higher temperatures, we can expect more cooling degree days this summer.

What are Degree Days?

Degree days are both a unit of measurement and an industry standard for weather modeling used to indicate how warm or cool a location is.  They compare the mean outdoor temperature to a standard base temperature, e.g. the outside temperature in which a building does not need air conditioning or heating. The standard base temperature in the United States is usually 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but actual building balance points can be determined through statistics (such as with EnergyWatch’s watchwire platform). The more extreme weather conditions are, the more degree days there are, resulting in higher expected levels of energy usage (either for heating or cooling).

Heating degree days (HDD) measure how cold temperatures are for a given period of days, resulting in the demand for energy to heat a building. On the other end of the spectrum, cooling degree days (CDD) measure how warm temperatures are, resulting in the demand for energy needed to cool a building. 

COVID-19 and Degree Days

While the coronavirus pandemic does not affect temperatures, it does affect the number and type of buildings which will need to prepare for cooling degree days this summer. With many non-essential office buildings and company offices closed as employees continue to work from home, air conditioning may not be a necessary expense for commercial real estate owners. However, residential property owners may need to plan for greater than normal energy usage this summer. People that typically turn off their air conditioners while at work will instead be at home, air conditioners running. Thus COVID-19 is not affecting how many cooling degree days we will see this summer, but where the load is placed. This makes it necessary for commercial and residential property owners to have energy management software which can track peak load times for their buildings.

As La Niña continues to develop over the remainder of 2020, winter temperatures will be warmer than average. This will in turn lower the number of heating degree days we experience. Still, COVID-19 is likely to have an impact on the load placement of heating degree days during the 2020/21 winter season. Depending on the course of the pandemic and the loosening of restrictions, more people may be returning to their offices, resulting in a greater demand for energy to heat the buildings.

Climate Change and Degree Days

Shifting global temperatures will result in more degree days. Climate change causes extreme temperatures on both ends of the spectrum – heat waves and severe winter storms. However, the current temperature trend is towards the warmer side.

Yet here too, COVID-19 is making an impact. Despite setbacks in the U.S. renewables industry, development is expected to bounce back post pandemic. Meanwhile, Europe sees green growth as a key part of its economic recovery once coronavirus restrictions are lifted.  Finally, COVID-19 lockdowns have led to a decrease in pollution across the globe, with a 30% drop in air pollution recorded over the Northeastern U.S. While pollution will likely return once countries return to normal life, there is currently a push to encourage lower emissions post pandemic. The future of climate change, and how the world will handle it, are at a crucial crossroads. Degree days of the future may be affected by how climate change is addressed in the post-COVID-19 world.

What’s Next?

It is important to know the amount of heating and cooling degree days and their correlation with consumption when analyzing energy usage and performance. If costs do not align with the trends in weather and degree day patterns, further investigation into building operations may be necessary. Additionally, as we begin a summer season in the midst of coronavirus, building managers must also take into consideration shifts in energy demand. Data on heating and cooling degree days provides energy and building managers benefits such as:

  • Trends in energy performance
  • Identify operational changes to buildings that affect energy consumption
  • Methodology for energy budgeting

Learn more about how energy management software, like watchwire, can both calculate heating and cooling degree days and automatically compare to your building’s energy consumption to find abnormalities or inefficiencies.