Sir Richard Branson, UK billionaire and founder of the Virgin group, says air conditioning efficiencies are “pathetic” and accuses leading manufacturers of being an obstacle to change.
In a blog on the Virgin website, Branson maintains that a “handful” of dominant companies are in the business of selling as many air conditioners as they can, as cheaply as they can.
“To the extent that they think about efficiency at all, it is because regulators force them too (and they don’t force them very much, either),” he writes. “The control exercised by a small number of players means that entrepreneurs and innovators find it difficult to find their way to buyers (or investors who will back them). High R&D costs present a major barrier to entry.”
In November, it was announced that Sir Richard Branson was backing a new $3 million initiative, backed by the government of India, to find a more efficient residential cooling technology. The Global Cooling Prize seeks to find a residential cooling technology with at least five times less climate impact than the standard room air conditioning units.
Recognising that air conditioning is vital to keeping people cool as the planet warms, he maintains that RACs “have barely scratched the surface” of their technology potential.
While admitting that he is not an AC expert, he writes: “Despite a 100-year runway, the most advanced products have only achieved 14% of their maximum theoretical efficiency.” The 14% figure he maintains is pathetic, compared to the 70% maximum theoretical efficiency achieved by commercial LED lighting and the 40% recorded by solar panels.
“If we can trigger a major technology change, it could be the single biggest technology-based step we can take to arrest climate change.
“We need to convince governments to aggressively raise energy efficiency standards and phase out the most damaging refrigerants (which the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program is admirably working on). Korea and Japan’s regulators forced a doubling of AC efficiency over the last several years – and manufacturers still found a way to make prices fall. We also need to raise the technology ceiling.”