Supported by the rapid economic development in the last few decades, China has become the largest energy consumer in the world. Alongside this, the effect of the anthropogenic heat released from energy consumption is increasingly apparent. We quantified the daytime and nighttime surface urban heat island intensity (SUHII) for the 32 major cities in mainland China, using MODIS land surface temperature data from 2008 to 2012, and estimated the energy consumption intensity (ECI) based on the correlation between energy consumption and the sum of nighttime lights. On this basis, the impact of energy consumption on the surface urban heat island in China’s 32 major cities was analyzed, by directly examining the relationship between SUHII and the urban-suburban difference in ECI. The results show that energy consumption has a significantly positive correlation with the nighttime SUHII, but no correlation with the daytime SUHII. It indicates that the cities with a larger urban-suburban difference in ECI have a far greater impact on SUHII during the nighttime. Therefore, the statistical analysis of the historical observation data in this study provides evidence for a long-held hypothesis that the anthropogenic heat released from energy consumption is an important contributor to the urban thermal environment.
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