As life on Earth changes due to the spread of humans across its surface, our dependence on renewable energy sources increases. Much like the Sun provides energy to the solar system, so too does nature provide clean fuel for us to convert into usable energy. One of the clearest indicators of this is the seasons. The seasons change as the Earth tilts on its axis, allowing for warmer places to appear in the Northern Hemisphere and vice versa – a phenomenon known as seasonal variation.
This dependency is further illustrated by our ever-evolving technology. While coal, oil, and gas provided the basis of our energy for most of the 20th century, now we are transitioning towards a completely different energy infrastructure. The most prominent example of this is Solar power, which has seen the cost of photovoltaic cells plummet, making it a more viable energy option for the masses.
However, not all regions of the Earth are created equal when it comes to solar reception. The north and south poles are considered to be the Earth’s hotspots when it comes to solar energy, as more of the Sun’s rays fall on the planet directly above them. The rest of the Earth shadows this region, meaning that a greater fraction of the Sun’s energy is lost above the South Pole. This results in the Southern Hemisphere experiencing cooler temperatures than the Northern Hemisphere, a phenomenon known as the Polar Bear Effect.
This difference is most apparent during the winters, when the reverse happens. The Sun’s rays are so sparse, they actually fail to reach the ground directly at all, meaning that the entire planet is covered by a thick layer of clouds and darkness.
How Does the Weather Channel Make Use Of This?
As the world becomes more digital and dependent on clean, renewable energy, the demand for weather information increases. However, not all weather information is created equal, and certain channels strip away all the useful information in order to sell advertisements. With this in mind, let’s take a look at how the Weather Channel uses the unequal distribution of solar energy to its advantage.
During the summer, when the Sun is high in the sky and its rays are most prominent, the Weather Channel’s headquarters is blanketed in shadow. The location is picked due to its southern exposure, ensuring that the building gets sufficient sunlight during the day. While the view from the roof is stunning and the offices are comfortable and well-appointed, something is amiss. The outdoor temperature is a pleasant 19 degrees Celsius, a significant contrast to the 10 degrees Celsius offered by the building’s air-conditioning system.
This is where the benefit of a southern location comes into play. As we’ve established, more of the Sun’s rays fall on the southern hemisphere, meaning that the air above the building is warmer than the air below it. The same phenomenon applies during the winters too – the building’s air becomes trapped within the container, resulting in negative pressure that draws in heat from the atmosphere.
This is how the Weather Channel uses the seasons to its advantage. The building’s design allows the Sun’s heat to enter during the day, heating up the indoor temperature. The air movement caused by people and the building’s A/C system further promotes this heat flow.
The design of the building incorporates a system of passive cooling, relying on the difference in temperature between inside and outside the building to provide for the constant temperature regulation. The south-facing glazing is also a major contributor to this effect, as it helps collect more solar energy during the day, boosting the building’s thermal efficiency.
The benefit of this design is that it allows for comfortable working environments in all weathers. The building gets its power from the grid, but its thermal regulation is provided by the Sun. This ensures that the working environment is never too hot nor cold, and the entire building is well-ventilated, keeping the air fresh.
Will This Design Be Viable In All Climates?
The Winter Olympics are just a few months away, and it’s a well-established fact that the planet’s northern and southern hemispheres experience stark contrasts in temperature. This is certainly a hindrance to the games’ organizers, who have to deal with unusually heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures. This is an obstacle that could easily be overcome by moving the games to a warmer climate.
On the contrary, the Winter Olympics are actually held in Pyeongchang, South Korea, meaning that the southern hemisphere’s glorious summer prevails. This is undoubtedly an advantage for the athletes, who will be competing in a sauna-like environment, complete with sunshine and sand, rather than snow and ice.
Despite the obvious differences between the two locations, the same design could offer a solution to both problems. The Weather Channel’s headquarters offer an excellent demonstration of how a building’s orientation and design can be used to harness the Sun’s energy and regulate the indoor environment.
The building is designed so that it takes advantage of the summertime, collecting more solar energy during the day, when the Sun is at its zenith, releasing the stored heat at night, when the Sun’s rays are at their weakest.
As mentioned above, one of the major disadvantages of the building’s southern exposure is that it gets less sunlight than the rest of the structure. The design team behind the building decided to address this issue by making the roof slightly sloped, promoting passive solar gain – that is, the natural heating of the building through the exposure to the Sun – on a larger scale.
The result is that the building is heated from above, ensuring that the indoor temperature is maintained at a constant level, no matter where the Sun is in its orbit.
The design of the building is also such that it draws in cool, breezy air from the North, when the Sun is at its zenith, and expels the stale air from the South, when the Sun sets. This ensures that the indoor environment is always fresh, regardless of the time of day. Even when the Sun is at its peak during the day, its rays cannot directly strike the building, as the roof is designed to shed some of its heat, ensuring that the indoor temperature stays at a comfortable level.
What About All The Darkness – Couldn’t Natural Lighting From Above Provide Enough Light?
While most building designs allow for some degree of natural lighting via windows – especially above floor level – it is still the case that many offices and homes are lit entirely by artificial light. When the Sun is at its lowest, the building’s occupants are subjected to severe periods of blindness, as there is insufficient ambient light for them to navigate their environment safely. In such instances, it is advisable to have a backup lighting system in case the Sun fails.
The Darkness is a movie that examines this issue, depicting a dystopian future where artificial lighting has taken over, depriving us of the joy of natural illumination. While this is certainly a compelling narrative, the artificial light sources in the film are shown to be almost completely ineffective, with only rare flashes of light piercing the gloom, allowing for the occasional bird’s-eye view of a cityscape.
Despite their effectiveness in the film – and indeed, real-life examples of such lighting exist too – smart lighting, such as that used by the Olympics organizers in Pyeongchang, is also relatively expensive and requires constant attention to ensure that it is functional and safe.
Artificial lighting is also completely dependent on the environment around it. If the ambient light levels are low, as in a poorly-lit room or an area with heavy shadow, then the light produced will be significantly diminished too. This is why some experts recommend using LED lighting as a safety measure, as this type of light has a comparatively lower dependence on its environment. It is also easier to regulate the light levels of LEDs, meaning that they provide a more consistent light output than other forms of artificial lighting, such as those made of flame or electron beams.
What Other Ways Can The Seasons Be Used?
The seasons offer an incredible amount of variety when it comes to climate, with the Northern Hemisphere enjoying relatively mild temperatures and the Southern Hemisphere experiencing markedly different conditions. The geography and orientation of the planet further enables cooling during the day and heating at night, with the position of the Sun relative to the Earth’s surface dictating the daily cycle of events on our home world.
This ability to regulate the climate is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it provides an excellent environment for human life, with the winters keeping the glaciers at bay and the summers making the planet inhabitable. On the other hand, this dependence makes the planet vulnerable to any major climate change, as the Sun’s energy input is far greater than that of any other source.