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Dangerous Warming Ahead from Air Conditioning


Fast action to improve AC efficiency needed to protect climate

Paris, France, 15 May 2018Global energy demand for air conditioning (ACs) is projected to triple by 2050, and when met with the current fossil fuel-heavy electricity generation will nearly double greenhouse gas emissions from this sector, from 1.25 billion tons in 2016 to 2.28 billion tons a year in 2050, further increasing the world’s need for cooling in a dangerous feedback loop.

These are the conclusions of the new International Energy Agency (IEA) report, “The Future of Cooling” which warns that the growing use of ACs in homes and offices worldwide will be one of the top drivers of electricity demand over the next three decades, consuming as much electricity as all of China today by 2050. IEA’s findings confirm earlier studies that calculate cooling energy demand could increase 40-fold by 2100.

“Keeping cool will doom the planet if we don’t make air conditioning super-efficient,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “We need a pledge from big buyers to buy only super-efficient ACs, plus a ban on selling inefficient AC vampires that steal vital energy that emerging countries need for development, and of course we also need to jack up minimum energy standards, all of which can save consumers money on their electricity bills, reduce air pollution, and keep the planet, as well as its citizens, cool.”

Making cooling more efficient will save as much as USD $2.9 trillion in investment, fuel, and operating costs, according to the IEA.

The new report calculates that stringent energy efficiency policies can cut AC energy demand in half by 2050. In a previous study, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, calculated that a modest 30% improvement in room AC efficiency could save the equivalent of up to 705 medium size peak power plants in 2030, and up to 1,137 power plants in 2050.

In addition, under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, agreed October 2016, countries are phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), powerful greenhouse gases used as refrigerants in AC’s. “Reducing HFCs under the Kigali Amendment will prevent up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100, and in tandem, with improvements in cooling efficiency we should be able to double this,” added Zaelke.

“Growing electricity demand for air conditioning is one of the most critical blind spots in today’s energy debate,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the IEA. “With rising incomes, air conditioner ownership will skyrocket, especially in the emerging world. While this will bring extra comfort and improve daily lives, it is essential that efficiency performance for ACs be prioritized.”

IEA’s full report, The Future of Cooling, is here, and their press release is here.

The Lawrence Berkeley report is here.