It’s a common knowledge that as the world temperature is going up every year the need for cooling our living spaces (and working spaces) also is going up. But what we have failed realise is the fact that the more we use cooling devices the more will be the global warming. Yes, global warming can be controlled, to an extent, by not using colling devices (which is an unimaginable scenario in the present situation).
Use of cooling devices add to global warming
There are an estimated 3.6 billion cooling appliances in use globally today, and that number is growing by up to 10 devices every second. One estimate suggests that if cooling is provided for all who need it – and not just those who can afford it – there would be a need for up to 14 billion cooling appliances by 2050. Thus, this growth is set to increase the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions dramatically, further warming the planet. Air conditioners are a double burden. In most cases, they use hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), extremely potent greenhouse gases, and require significant energy to run. Without policy intervention, direct and indirect emissions from air conditioning and refrigeration are projected to rise 90 per cent above 2017 levels by the year 2050.
Coordinated effort can reduce emissions
Coordinated international action on energy-efficient, climate-friendly cooling could avoid as much as 460 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – roughly equal to eight years of global emissions at 2018 levels – over the next four decades, according to the Cooling Emissions and Policy Synthesis Report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Phasing out HFCs can avoid warming
While HFCs do not affect the ozone layer, they are potent greenhouse gases and phasing them down has the potential to avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by the end of the century. The Montreal Protocol’s latest control measure is the 2016 Kigali Amendment to phase down hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, primarily used as refrigerants. Improving the efficiency of cooling equipment has the potential to more than double the climate benefits of the Kigali Amendment, with the combined potential to avoid the equivalent of up to 260 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2050. This will save nearly $3 trillion dollars in energy generation and transmission costs, in addition to reducing consumers monthly electricity bills, while also protecting public health and agricultural productivity by reducing air pollution.
Global energy demand for air conditioning in buildings more than tripled between 1990 and 2016, from about 600 Terawatt hours (TWh) to 2,000 TWh (IEA 2018a). This is equivalent to the total electricity consumed in Japan and India in 2016.
AC usage increases with rise in income
Air conditioner ownership, in particular, rises very rapidly with income in countries with hot and humid climates, where cooling is essential for people to live and work in comfort (IEA 2018a). Demand in India, for example, has outpaced annual GDP growth, which has fluctuated between 5 and 8% since 2010 (World Bank 2018). Production of room air conditioners has been growing at 13% per year since 2010 and demand for air conditioners is expected to grow by 11–15% per year over 2017-2027 period (India, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change 2019).
Enhance energy efficiency of cooling devices
Substantial savings can be achieved by enhancing the energy efficiency of the cooling appliances. The IEA estimates that doubling the energy efficiency of air conditioning by 2050 would reduce the need for 1,300 gigawatts of additional generation capacity to meet peak demand, the equivalent of all the coal-fired power generation capacity in China and India in 2018. Worldwide, doubling the energy efficiency of air conditioners could save up to USD 2.9 trillion by 2050 in reduced generation, transmission and distribution costs alone.
There is urgent need to move to best available technology. Most air conditioners sold are 2-3 times less efficient than the best available on the market. There is also need to Improve installation of new equipment and monitoring and maintenance of existing equipment. This could deliver electricity savings of up to 20%.
Make buildings energy efficient
Demand for cooling in buildings has steadily risen over the years, and currently accounts for nearly one fifth of total building electricity use. An estimated 130 billion square meters of new building construction is expected over the next 20 years. This in itself presents scope to reduce the need for cooling through improved building design, construction, retrofitting, and operation. Remember, once a building is constructed, the amount of cooling required for thermal comfort gets locked-in. There is an urgent need for effective building codes that mandate cooling efficiency – need to frame effective building codes as well as ensuring their compliance.
Energy efficiency in buildings should not be considered in isolation, but as an integrated approach that combines demand side efficiency (at the consumer end) with cooling supply side efficiency to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
Accounting, labelling and standards that prioritize building-level efficiencies over full energy-system efficiency can stand as a barrier to using not-in-kind alternatives. These include evaporative cooling, vapor absorption systems, deep lake and seawater cooling systems, tidal and other cooling systems in a district cooling configuration, which do not use conventional refrigerants such as HCFCs, HFCs and HCs.
India launched India Cooling Action Plan (ICAP) in March, 2019. The India Cooling Action seeks to (i) reduce cooling demand across sectors by 20% to 25% by 2037-38, (ii) reduce refrigerant demand by 25% to 30% by 2037-38, (iii) Reduce cooling energy requirements by 25% to 40% by 2037-38, (iv) recognize “cooling and related areas” as a thrust area of research under national S&T Programme, (v) training and certification of 100,000 servicing sector technicians by 2022-23, synergizing with Skill India Mission. These actions will have significant climate benefits. Now we have to see how effectively and efficiently this plan will be implemented.