Policy - 07/May/2019

Cooling in a warming world

Building design is key to reducing demand for energy guzzling air conditioning

Energy demand for cooling indoor spaces to temperatures fit for man and machine is rising fast. It does not have to. Better air conditioning equipment, its correct installation and enforcement of tougher standards for both would rapidly reduce energy use. For that to happen, political action on rules and regulations is urgently needed before cooling becomes a significant accelerator of global warming

Wake up call: The market for keeping buildings cool is exploding and flooding the world with substandard energy hungry solutions

Smell the coffee: Energy efficiency improvements through the introduction of mandatory norms for cooling equipment could halve energy growth from air conditioning

Bring back shade: Better designed buildings, more space between them, sun protection for roofs and introduction of urban greenery all reduce energy use

Key quote: “This is a performance standards issue.”

As the world warms, the need for cooling will escalate as people struggle to avoid heat stress, keep vital medicines at stable temperatures and create cool ambient operating conditions for machines and data centres. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts ten air conditioning units will be sold every second for the next 30 years, placing extra load on electricity systems and driving up emissions. More efficient use of electricity, enforcement of standards, standardisation of air conditioning unit design, architecture apt for creating cooler buildings and urban greenery for shade could help reduce demand.

Use of energy for cooling buildings is increasing and IEA figures tracking the trend make for sober reading. Since 2000, energy for cooling has doubled in buildings worldwide from 3.6 exajoules (EJ) to seven EJ. Air conditioners and electric fans now account for nearly 20% of total electricity consumption in buildings. While 90% of households in the US and 60% in China have air conditioning (AC), this figure falls to 8% in the hottest parts of the world. As temperatures rise and disposable incomes increase, the number of AC units in use is predicted to rise from today’s 1.6 billion to 5.6 billion in 2050, requiring the equivalent of the current combined electricity capacity of the EU, the US and Japan, says the IEA.

Global year end AC sales for 2017 were worth $102 billion, says BRISA, a UK-based building services and research organisation. China, the US and Japan topped the sales charts, with the Asia Pacific region accounting for the largest share of AC units with 58% of global value. Growth in the coming years will be led by Indonesia, India and the Middle East, forecasts the IEA. ...

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