- Sweltering heat and high humidity led to ‘feels-like’ temperatures of 40°C for many events at the Tokyo Olympics.
- At least 30 athletes were treated for heat-related illnesses.
- Cooling measures included solar-reflecting paint, wind-cooled buildings and wearable tech.
With concerns of 40°C heat and 80% humidity Japanese officials have sought for several years to allay fears that Tokyo, in mid-summer, would be too hot to host the Summer Olympics.
During the Games, the world watched as players and teams demanded that events be moved to cooler parts of the day. At least 30 athletes were treated for heat-related illnesses, including tennis players who withdrew from competition. Beach volleyball players complained that the sand was almost too hot to stand on. Swimmers said the water in Tokyo Bay (29°C) felt “as hot as soup”.
Organizers and designers of facilities have long known it would be a challenge. Tokyo temperatures gained 3°C over 100 years in part because the city acts as a heat island, trapping hot air.
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In mid-2019, a year before the games were due to be held, they brought in technology and design companies under the banner: Tokyo 2020 COOLING Project.
So what were the design features and measures to mitigate the effects of the heat?
Using a paint developed by NASA to keep astronauts cool, more than 100km of road surfaces were coated, with the effect of reducing temperatures by 8°C.
The move was meant, in part, to alleviate the heat facing marathon runners, but the event was moved to the northern city of Sapporo.
Stadium “designed for wind”
It’s been designed with giant eaves to encourage as much airflow as possible from outside, with a vast open roof providing shade, scores of coolers and fans, and 47,000 plants in and around the structure.
The organizers claim temperatures inside the venue are 10°C lower than those outside.
Mobile and fixed misting towers spraying water can cool the air by as much as 20°C, and were widely deployed.
They were even used to cool horses taking part in equestrian events. The drawback is that they require a lot of fresh water: almost 50 litres an hour.
Other measures included moving as many events as possible indoors, and then deploying more efficient air-conditioners.
This was a requirement because the Tokyo 2020 organizers declared they wanted “the greenest Olympics ever”.
The latest IPCC report on climate change underlines the urgent challenge facing governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions while living with increasingly erratic weather patterns.
The use of air conditioners and electric fans for cooling homes and workplaces already accounts for 10% of global electricity use, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
And it projects that electricity consumption for air conditioners will triple by 2050. That’s why the recent G7 meeting in England called for a doubling of the efficiency of cooling systems sold worldwide by 2030. Japan is at the forefront of some of these moves.
As well as urban design and cooling solutions, there is wearable tech. Many athletes in Tokyo trialled outfits with “technologies that could also be used for prevention, diagnosis and real-time monitoring of skin and core temperature”, according to the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
For the rest of us, there are solutions of the kind demonstrated at the opening and closing ceremonies.
Team USA wore Ralph Lauren-designed jackets with “a self-regulating personal thermal management device”. The company says the garment “disperses heat from the wearer’s skin through a sophisticated device that monitors and optimizes temperature and uses the same technology to cool the world’s most advanced computer systems”.
What is the World Economic Forum doing to promote sustainable urban development?
Cities are responsible for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are home to over half of the world’s population—a number that will grow to two-thirds by 2050. By going greener, cities could contribute more than half of the emissions cuts needed to keep global warming to less than 2°c, which would be in line with the Paris Agreement.
To achieve net-zero urban emissions by 2050, the World Economic Forum is partnering with other stakeholders to drive various initiatives to promote sustainable urban development. Here are just a few:
- The Coalition for Urban Transitions is the first major global initiative aimed at helping countries achieve inclusive, sustainable economic growth through better urban policies. Consisting of 50 partner organizations, the coalition brings national governments into the process of decarbonizing our cities by connecting them with city leaders. Read our impact story to learn how this coalition is making a difference.
- The Zero Carbon Buildings for All Initiative pledges to fully decarbonize all new buildings by 2030 and all existing buildings by 2050.
- The Systemic Efficiency project arose from the Zero Carbon Buildings for All Initiative. Jointly led by the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Energy and Materials and the Platform for Shaping the Future of Cities, Infrastructure and Urban Services, the Systemic Efficiency project brings global policy-makers, financiers and the private sector together to create systemic change in the urban ecosystem by optimizing energy efficiency in buildings, transport and various industries.
To learn more about our initiatives to promote zero-carbon cities and to see how you can be part of our efforts to facilitate urban transformation, reach out to us here.
And that, ultimately, may hint at the most efficient way to cool, or indeed heat, ourselves in the future.
As part of efforts to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions research into localized thermal management (smaller spaces), and personal thermal management (clothing), is burgeoning.
In the US, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) account for about 13% of all energy usage. The US Department of Energy is funding research into both installed and wearable devices that regulate temperatures so that buildings can operate in wider temperature ranges while maintaining comfort levels.