Why Heat Transfer Modeling Can Benefit from Weather Data

Bridget Cunningham June 6, 2016
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When designing a device or process, it is important to not only study the system itself, but to also account for the effects of the environment around it. Historical weather data can help to address such effects by offering deeper insight into the weather patterns across different locations and time frames. Take a closer look at how such data can foster better design decisions, with a particular emphasis on its benefits within heat transfer modeling.

The Unpredictable Nature of Weather

If you’re like me, you often find yourself checking the weather app on your mobile phone. Within a matter of days, or even hours, you may notice that what was once predicted to be a cold, rainy weekend has turned into a hot, sunny series of days. This shift is quite common and, as the photo below illustrates, it sometimes happens right before your very eyes.

A rain cloud amidst a sunny sky illustrates the unpredictable nature of weather.
A rain cloud amidst a sunny sky.

Weather, by nature, is a complex and unpredictable force. Studying weather phenomena can be difficult, as there are many factors to consider in its analysis, from temperature and precipitation to humidity and wind. One valuable way to predict weather is to use the past as a reference point.

Over the years, organizations like the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) have collected historical data from weather stations throughout the world — more than 6000 such stations. The data touches on various elements relating to weather, including temperature, humidity, solar irradiation, and typical wind velocity. This information provides further insight into weather at different locations at different times of the year and enables more accurate design decisions based on these predictions.

Let’s take a closer look at some analyses where weather data is particularly useful.

Historical Weather Data Fosters Better Design Decisions

In building design, a key factor to consider is energy efficiency. Saving energy reduces overall costs while also minimizing pollution and the consumption of natural resources. Ensuring such efficiency while maintaining the thermal comfort of the building’s occupants requires an understanding of the thermal loads that are placed on the structure. The weather characteristics around the structure are therefore an important consideration, as they directly impact the loads.

Energy efficiency is important in building design, including the skyscrapers shown here.
Energy efficiency is an important design consideration in buildings, from small structures to the skyscrapers shown above.

Now think of an embedded electronics system such as a traffic light or radar system. Both of these systems are designed to ensure safety, but this requires that they perform well within their intended setting. Running such tests warrants a need to understand how the system is impacted by weather patterns, from exposure to standard conditions as well as the more extreme circumstances.

A photo of a traffic light, one type of embedded electronics system that can be impacted by weather.
A traffic light is one example of an embedded electronics system that can be affected by weather.

For each of these examples, we know the intended location of the design. By looking to historical weather data, we can more accurately account for the thermal characteristics that the structures will be subjected to and, if needed, modify the designs to fit their respective settings.

The Value of Weather Data in Heat Transfer Simulations

So how does weather data apply to simulation studies? As we’ve highlighted here, there are many heat transfer simulations that can benefit from the implementation of weather data as an input. Access to such information helps expedite modeling processes, as it removes the need for building a thermal model outside of the design — a task that can be rather difficult given the unpredictable nature of weather. Instead, engineers and researchers can simply select data for their specific location and time frame and apply it to their analysis, a combination that allows for both speed and accuracy.

In addition to optimizing the design of devices for typical conditions, weather data also enables designers to observe how devices operate in extreme conditions. This could, for instance, relate to the minimum or maximum values that have been recorded. For both cases, knowledge of past weather data over several years proves much more valuable than a forecast for the upcoming days and weeks.

Today, we’ve looked at some of the advantages of utilizing weather data in heat transfer simulations. And soon, with a new feature in the upcoming version of COMSOL Multiphysics, you’ll be able to easily incorporate this type of data into your own simulations. Stay tuned! In the meantime, check out the additional resources provided below.

Editor’s note: We published a blog post on 6/22/16 showcasing the weather data available in COMSOL Multiphysics® version 5.2a. Read about the new functionality here.

Find Out More About Heat Transfer Modeling in COMSOL Multiphysics

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