In a warmer, richer world, the demand for air conditioning will skyrocket. From 900 million room air conditioners in 2015, the global stock is expected to grow to 2.5 billion units in 2050. In many parts of the developing world, cool dehumidified air is not only a matter of comfort but also one of public health and safety. Cooling makes possible economic growth and prosperity. The challenge we have before us is how to deliver that cooling sustainably to more people.
Most of the cooling equipment that will be in place in 2030 has yet to be manufactured, sold, and installed. With an expected amendment to the Montreal Protocol requiring that countries ramp down their use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, the future of cooling must be one of greater energy efficiency and climate-friendly refrigerants.
Improving the average efficiency of air conditioners sold in 2030 by 30 % compared to today’s models would reduce emissions of CO2 by up to 25 billion metric tons over the lifetime of the equipment. This is equivalent to wiping out the annual emissions of 1,550 coal-fired power plants. High-efficiency room air conditioners would also reduce peak electricity demand by as much as 790 gigawatts. Money not spent on electricity infrastructure could instead be used for other development priorities such as schools and health clinics. Energy efficient air conditioners that used refrigerants with a low global-warming potential would double the climate benefit of a refrigerant transition alone and help clean the air in our cities.
To grab this opportunity, in June 2016 the Clean Energy Ministerial launched the Advanced Cooling Challenge to inspire governments and industry to make, sell, promote, and install super-efficient air conditioner or cooling solutions that are smart, climate friendly, and affordable. A coalition of governments — including the United States, India, China, Canada, Chile, and Saudi Arabia — have come together with a dozen businesses and organizations to answer this call to action.
The momentum is building. In September 2016, 19 philanthropists announced their intention to provide $53 million to support improvements in energy efficiency in developing countries. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced expectations for $1 billion in lending for energy efficiency in urban areas as part of the Bank’s Climate Change Action Plan.
These and other efforts are helping consumers and governments make good decisions, decisions that allow efficient and climate-friendly air conditioners (and other equipment) to dominate their markets. We will all benefit as a result.
Gabrielle B. Dreyfus, Office of International Affairs, U.S. Department of Energy
Mark Radka, Energy, Climate and Technology Branch, UN Environment