Thermography is often described as both art and science. While everything we do is based on the laws of physical reality, much of our work is interpretation of how those laws apply. I would suggest a similar conundrum exists for our understanding of climate change, formerly known as “global warming.” What is happening to the planet is all based on good, hard science, but the interrelationships are so complex that our interpretation of the data is often challenging.
Understanding Peak Use of Energy
Personally. I find it disturbing that many still reject outright the basic premise that the climate of the planet is changing due to human influence. For many, there is probably a naturaland understandable skepticism with science. Too often, we forget the basis of all science is not simply to prove a theory true, but rather to test it and test it in an effort to find it not (yet) false.
Whether we believe in climate change or not, it has been a very hot week in most of the United States. As a consequence, there are more air conditioners running longer and more energy being used to power them. At the same time our buildings are filled with little heaters, called incandescent light bulbs, and are constructed in ways that the thermal envelopes are quite inefficient at slowing the flow of heat into our living spaces.
An often overlooked consequence is that the summer peak use of energy keeps getting pushed higher and higher. The result is that more power plants and added sources of more costly energy to fire them must be come on line to meet our needs. In the end, the cost of meeting a peak demand in this way is immense.
Managing Use of Energy
Thermographers are, by definition, involved in managing the use of energy on the demand side. Our efforts—whether with building insulation or the electrical and mechanical equipment used everywhere in our societies—result in less energy being used. A “negawatt” utility, one based on meeting some of the increased demand by using less rather than building more power plants, will not by itself, be able to reverse global climate change, but most scientific models suggest it can help flatten the curve of change dramatically. That can buy us time to find and implement other solutions.
Smart metering is also part of the solution. We’ll be able to make more intelligent choices—with feedback directly from our pocket books—about when to use power. We can also obtain savings from lower rates by making some of our needs available to be interrupted. If our home, for instance, is well insulated and air sealed, we might allow the power company to turn off the AC for an hour on the hottest day of the summer knowing we can coast through the thermal swing without becoming too uncomfortable. You can’t do that if you haven’t dealt with the basics of making your home efficient.
Being Part of the Solution
So thermographers should take pride in being part of the solution to what is, in my humble opinion, the greatest challenge our species have ever faced. I think we can also use our thermal images to help people better understand and interpret the data related to climate change. I suggest we all take our images out this week and find some nice, cool shade in which to contemplate what more we can do to help slow climate change.
John Snell—The Snell Group, a Fluke Thermal Imaging Blog content partner