Do you take air con for granted?
If you’re hot, you switch it on, right? In many places around the world, the cooling technology has become a feature of modern office blocks, hotels and restaurants.
And demand is on the up, particularly in emerging nations. Two in every three global households could have an air conditioner by 2050, according to a new report, with China, India and Indonesia accounting for half the total number. That means the stock of air conditioners will grow to 5.6 billion by 2050, from 1.6 billion today – meaning about 10 new ACs will be sold every second for the next 30 years.
One unintended consequence will be higher electricity demand, according to the International Energy Agency report The Future of Cooling which underscores how new efficiency standards are needed to prevent what it calls a “cold crunch”. More air conditioners will require new electricity capacity which will equate to the combined capacity of the United States, the EU and Japan today, the report says.
“With rising incomes, air conditioner ownership will skyrocket, especially in the emerging world,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the Executive Director of the IEA. “Growing electricity demand for air conditioning is one of the most critical blind spots in today’s energy debate.”
Today, less than a third of global households own an air conditioner. In countries such as the United States and Japan, more than 90% of households have air conditioning, compared to just 8% of people in the hottest parts of the world.
Those dynamics are already shifting, with more people wanting cooling devices in hot countries like India, and more people being able to afford them. The report forecasts that the share of AC in peak electricity load could reach 45% in 2050, up from 10% today.
Setting higher standards for the manufacture and efficiency of the units could help combat that, reducing the need to build new power plants to produce the energy.
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At the moment efficiency varies widely. For example, ACs sold in Japan and the European Union are around 25% more efficient than those sold in the United States and China. Making cooling more efficient would make it more affordable, more secure, and more sustainable, and could save as much as $2.9 trillion in investment, fuel and operating costs, the IEA says.
The World Economic Forum’s initiative, Shaping the Future of Energy, explores similar themes, like how to enable a more sustainable, affordable, secure and inclusive energy system. It aims to accelerate the development of effective policies, private-sector action and public-private cooperation.
“Setting higher efficiency standards for cooling is one of the easiest steps governments can take to reduce the need for new power plants,” said Dr Birol. “And allow them at the same time to cut emissions and reduce costs.”