Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Warming Planet Faces Cooling Crisis

As climate change warms the Earth, one significant concern is the cooling crisis, the quest for energy-hungry artificial ways to keep ourselves cool.

A windcatcher in Iran. (Image Credit: Folkertherly, via Wikimedia Commons) Click to Enlarge.
One of the ironies of increasing climate change is the cooling crisis:  the hotter the planet becomes, the greater our demand for ways to cool down.  And most often, in rich countries, that means switching on the air conditioning, which in turn means using more electricity and emitting more fossil fuels to escape the heat we’ve emitted by burning so much already.

Just how serious that irony is in practice is clear from a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) on the future of cooling.  The Agency’s executive director, Fatih Birol, sums up the problem in his foreword:  “The world faces a looming ‘cold crunch.’

“Using air conditioners and electric fans to stay cool accounts for nearly 20% of the total electricity used in buildings around the world today. And this trend is set to grow as the world’s economic and demographic growth becomes more focused in hotter countries.”

Since 1990, the report says, global sales of electrically-powered fans and air-conditioning systems (ACs) have more than tripled.  More than half of them are used in just two countries – China and the United States.  Over a year the 1.6bn ACs in use worldwide consume more than 2,000 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity – 2.5 times more than Africa’s total annual electricity consumption.

Carbon dioxide emissions from cooling have also tripled since 1990, to 1,130m tonnes, causing corresponding growth in local air pollution.  And the growing demand for cooling is moving south, driven by economic and population growth in the hottest parts of the world.

Very limited effect
Most of the projected growth by 2050 in energy use for cooling is expected to come from the emerging economies, half of it from three countries – India, China and Indonesia.

The IEA says its analysis shows that governments’ policies to address current and future electricity consumption so as to meet cooling demand would have only “a very limited effect” in slowing it.  Its baseline scenario sees the energy needed tripling by 2050 to 6,200 TWh, with meeting peak electricity demand a major challenge, because of the need for extra generation and distribution equipment.

But the baseline scenario is not the only option, the IEA says.  Its alternative vision is what it calls an efficient cooling scenario which greatly strengthens policies for limiting the energy needed for cooling, and which it says “is compatible with the ambitious goals to limit climate change that were agreed in the Paris Agreement”.

The key word here is “efficient”.  This scenario focuses on achieving massive improvements in the efficiency of AC equipment, accompanied by other measures like tougher minimum energy performance standards, and clear labeling to guide consumers.

Read more at Warming Planet Faces Cooling Crisis

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