Cooling demand to heat up in coming years

air conditioning units
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The cooling industry will need to improve the efficiency and affordability of its units by 2030 if it is to meet a surge in demand, a new report finds.

More than 4 billion cooling units are expected to be sold around the world in the next decade, driven by climate change, urbanisation and income growth, according to a new report by Economist Intelligence Unit.

Individuals represent the largest market for cooling, with more than 60 per cent of units in use within domestic and residential settings, according to the report. However, businesses such as data centres and hotels, are expected to lead future growth in demand.

The expected uptick of cooling demand will come largely from developing countries, according to Dan Hamza-Goodacre, executive director of the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program, the association which commissioned the report.

“This [international uptick] is important to meet human needs,” he said, as access to affordable cooling will be critical if countries are to meet the Sustainable Development Goals – particularly in the areas of food security, health, education, employee productivity and equality.

The report predicts most demand will come from China in terms of the numbers of units. However, relative growth will be steeper in places such as India and Indonesia, which are currently experiencing a “cooling gap” according to Mr Hamza-Goodacre.

Lack of access to cooling disproportionately affects people on low incomes, the elderly and those in social isolation. Unrefrigerated food and medication quickly spoil, for example, while children don’t learn as well and worker productivity falls in uncomfortably hot environments.

“If we fail to sustainably transform the cooling market, we will fail to avoid a climate catastrophe,” Mr Hamza-Goodacre said.

Cooling units contribute substantially to climate change, both directly – they use and leak hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFC) or hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants – and indirectly because they “typically run, often very inefficiently, on fossil fuel-based power”.

To meet this predicted demand more sustainably, the report outlined a number of steps must be taken urgently to avoid the need for cooling, to shift necessary units to lower emissions and higher efficiency, and to “protect those most vulnerable to a lack of cooling”.

It suggested improving building design with models such as passive house, incorporating more green spaces into urban areas, and leaning on heavy use sectors such as supermarkets and real estate developers to switching to less energy-intensive and heat-creating technology, such as LED lighting.

To reduce the emissions created by remaining necessary units, the report suggests transitioning to lower-impact options such as using HFC blends or hydrofluoroolefins (HFOs). While these may actually use greater amounts of hydrocarbons and CO2, they are “far less harmful to the atmosphere than HFCs,” according to the report.

The report also suggested decarbonising the electricity used to power the cooling units, and looking to naturally occurring refrigerants like ammonia and propane for further emissions reductions.

Innovation over the past 30 years has provided a steady flow of improvements to compressor, fan, motor, and heat exchanger designs, the report said, increasing efficiency and lowering costs. Additional improvements to unit management with new technologies and better systems for end-of-life disposal should increase the efficiency of cooling units further.

The surge in demand for cooling represents a business opportunity for leading companies, according to Helen Clarkson, chief executive of The Climate Group.

Clever design and smarter energy use will benefit manufacturers of cooling units and their customers and offset energy demand and emissions, she said.

More than 50 leading companies with combined revenue over $550 billion publicly committed to using smarter energy when they signed The Climate Group’s EP100 Cooling Challenge, launched in partnership with the Alliance to Save Energy.

“But we need to scale up and fast,” Ms Clarkson said.

“The first signatories to our EP100 Cooling Challenge include key Indian manufacturers and a major hotel chain, as well as a Middle Eastern retail giant. Every major company should follow suit.”

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