The already enormous and increasing energy consumption that comes with air conditioning is a challenge we need to take seriously. The amount of people being able to afford for the comfort of cool and comfortable living conditions is all the time rising as people are getting richer in developing nations. Cooling accounts for a big portion of the electricity consumption and generates high CO2 emissions as a result.
The growth in global demand for space cooling is such a blind spot: it is one of the most critical yet often overlooked energy issues of our time. If left unchecked, energy demand from air conditioners will more than triple by 2050, equal to China’s electricity demand today. -Dr. Fatih Birol, Executive Director, International Energy Agency
In Thailand, as an example, cooling accounts for 44% to 66% of electricity consumption in buildings
Kasikorn Bank Thailand did a research showing the portion of electricity that goes for cooling the buildings such as Department Stores, Office Buildings, Hospitals, Hotels, and Universities in Thailand. See Graph below. Now the percentages of 43% to 66% talks their story about the size of the challenge we are facing with cooling. We can understand that the cooling contributes to the global CO2 consumption with some serious numbers and with numbers that are all the time on rise as the buildings with AC’s in them is increasing quickly. Total AC demand globally is increasing with around 2% to 3% per year. With developing countries often being in the hottest parts of the world, this is also where the increase in demand is the highest. In nations around Asia the increase is 6% — 8% and according to research by JRAIA World Air Conditioner Demand by Region there are countries that also go way beyond those growth numbers.
Rising Prosperity means more Air Conditioning
To find the answer, start by studying the world’s long-term demographic and economic trends. By 2040, world population is expected to reach 9.1 billion, up from 7.3 billion today. — Outlook for Energy 2017 IEA
It really is a paradox that the fortunate few in the western world has developed technologies and ways of living that literally would cause the end of the world as we know it if accessible for all humans. As energy is produced to day the air conditioning causes enormous amounts of CO2 emissions. How can this then be solved? For sure, it would be very close to impossible to reverse and ban the use of Air conditioning for the ones already used to them. Likewise, not allowing developing countries to get access to the technology is not feasible and would definitely not be fair.
Naturally air conditioner is one of the first purchases people will make in hot part of the world when they have the wealth to do so. Air conditioner is not only about comfort but also a factor of health and wellbeing in warm nations. “The growth in cooling will save lives, improve education and create wealth in the world’s hottest countries. But it brings huge environmental risks, warming the planet even as it cools people.” — The Economist
As the Graph above shows, cooling days multiplied with by population is indicating potential need for air conditioning.
India — Raising prosperity is increasing the air conditioning
When talking about the raise of the air conditioning, we must not forget India. Air conditioner is a crucial part of living in the climate with all the time raising temperature. “World’s Hottest Market: Air Conditioners For India And Hundreds Of New Electric Plants To Power Them” , “In India, air conditioning is expected to double the country’s electricity demand in 15 years, requiring 200–300 new electric plants for that one appliance. Air conditioning is part of the reason India is expected to be the world’s largest contributor to new electricity demand between now and 2040.” Forbes 2017
The whole electricity demand in India is about to double in next 15 years because of the air conditioning.
Air conditioning — Vicious Cycle
The title by The Guardian “Why air conditioning is a vicious circle” asked a well describing questions about the challenge we are facing. “Air conditioning also pumps out heat straight into the atmosphere. Like a fridge, it takes heat from the inside of a building or car, then transfers it to the warm outside. That extra heat makes cities hotter, raising night-time temperatures by up to 2C, which then encourages people to turn up their air conditioning even higher.” — The Guardian Vicious cycle is the best description heard, so far, for the air conditioning. Cooling taking place inside the building, making it possible to live in the hot climate while at the same time increasing outside temperature with CO2 emissions and contributing to the climate change causing more challenges in the hot climate.
Cooling and Sustainable Development — Cooling Essential for All
The report by University of Birmingham “A Cool World Defining the Energy Conundrum of Cooling for All” suggest multiple excellent points regarding the importance and need for air conditioning and the cause of it. “If we are to deliver on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals societal, health and economic targets, Cooling for All will be essential. But what should Cooling for All look like and what would it mean for our renewable energy systems and overall climate change mitigation targets? Can we solve both the challenge of ensuring equitable access to cooling for all humans and mitigate its future, as well as current — and already significant — energy and environmental impacts without radical intervention?” It is truly a challenge to provide a cool and livable environment for all of us to live in. The amount of CO2 emissions is going high and there is a lot of development needed for reducing it. “By 2050, according to the Green Cooling Initiative (GCI), led by GIZ Proklima, there could be more than 9.5 billion cooling appliances worldwide — more than 2.5 times today’s ~3.6 billion.” “The cooling sector will, on current trajectory, increase its overall energy consumption by 90% by 2050 to ~7,500TWh annually compared with 2018 levels (3,900TWh); and potentially 9,500TWh if we do not achieve the aggressive energy efficiency improvements.” These numbers are only with current growth and doesn’t meet with the Sustainable Development goals of having cooling for all.
Solutions are needed
We can already identify the massive need for all the solutions we possible can innovate to reduce the energy consumption in cooling. We see three principle solutions in theory:
1. The final solution would be carbon free, renewable energy sources in unlimited supply so that air conditioning can be used unlimited without any CO2 and global warming effect. On top of that we would need to solve the issue with cooling liquids.
2. Stop using Air Conditioning
3. Improve technology and energy efficiency so that we get more cooling per kWh of energy
Now, we have already ruled out number 2 above since it is not feasible or realistic. Although the world now is moving faster than ever towards renewable energy sources, relying on that as the final solution will take too long time. A logical conclusion thus is to work in all possible ways to decrease waste and increase energy efficiency while simultaneously keeping full speed in converting energy production to renewable.
Having the solution number one is a long process but important one. As outlined in the report by University of Birmingham “Alternatively to “green” this volume of electricity would consume more than 50% of the projected total renewables capacity under the IEA 2ºC Scenario and 80% of the IEA Reference Technology Scenario projected renewables capacity by 2050. This increases to 101% in the event we do not achieve accelerated technology progress.” the current speed of developing renewable energy production is not enough unless we would be able to upgrade the efficiency of the devices. Great companies like Honeywell has been innovating solutions for the liquid challenge by innovating alternative like Hydrofluoroolefins (HFO) instead of Hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC). HFO molecules are breaking down much faster so there is less time for them to trap heat in the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, we must focus on simple solutions for energy efficiency that can be implemented in a short period of time and will be important in making the renewable energy production to match with the consumption. There are already many solutions in the market with more and better products coming all the time. Some have been around for a very long time without becoming a well-known product or brand name. 20 years ago, when AirconSaver was developed in Germany, energy consumption was not a big topic. This product, once installed by electrician, still does a good job on single unit ACs and is available through distributors in many countries across the globe.
Nest is also doing a good job in residential sites and getting savings of up to 15% by making sure that temperature is measured where you want it and waste usage is limited.
RenGlobe Tech Solutions (RGTS) has built a solution that is targeting the massive consumption in commercial spaces with multiple split AC units in same room. RGTS identified this area as totally forgotten. While multiple solutions are entering and already existing in AC markets, nobody seemed to realize that we could centralize and optimize the multiple split AC units operating in the same room. AC units usually are optimized to work well alone in a room but in Asia and around the hot countries it is common to use multiple split AC units in one and the same room. These units are then not communicating with each other and therefore are not optimized to work as efficiently as possible. Developing an efficient and well working solution for this setting was not as easy as it sounds like though. RenGlobe Tech Solutions Climate Control Unit CCU is a result of over 4 years of research and development done by energy, AC and IoT experts from Sweden. CCU connects the multiple split AC units under one cloud based intelligent control system that in turn is monitored and controlled through an online dashboard. The product is soon to be launched and has already shown impressive 30% — 50% savings in over 50 test sites. CCU increases the comfort for the owner of multiple spaces since they easily can manage and monitor all their split AC units in different locations allowing remote control and alarm and maintenance functions.
While the solutions mentioned above are not removing the problem, those solutions still have a major impact to the CO2 emissions when implemented worldwide. According to calculations made by RGTS the CCU alone could reduce CO2 emissions up to 70 Gigatons annually when implemented to all the locations suitable based on JRAIA research “World Air Conditioner Demand by Region”.
Let’s work together to innovate more great solutions for the challenge of staying cool!