Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Cold sweat: the high cost of aircon

There are currently 1.6 billion aircon units in use around the world There are currently 1.6 billion aircon units in use around the world
14 Jul
2018
Soaring sales of air conditioning units over the next thirty years are set to rapidly escalate global levels of energy demand

As the temperature rises, sweaty and flustered humans are kickstarting a feedback loop that is further exacerbating the problem of climate change. At present, the world has 1.6 billion air conditioning units, which collectively use a staggering ten per cent of all global electricity demand. While less than a third of households globally are so equipped, the most AC-addicted countries are Japan (in 91 per cent of households), the US (90 per cent) and South Korea (86 per cent).

New research by the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the total number of units is set to more than triple to 5.6 billion by 2050 – equal to ten new units being sold every second for more than 30 years – with sales driven particularly by India, China and Indonesia. This will make the use of air conditioning one of the world’s largest demands for energy, equivalent to adding the entirety of the EU, the US and Japan’s current energy capacity to the global grid.

‘Growing electricity demand for air conditioning is one of the most critical blind spots in today’s energy debate,’ argues Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA. ‘With rising incomes, air conditioner ownership will skyrocket, especially in the emerging world. While this will bring improve daily lives, it is essential that efficiency performance be prioritised.’

Birol and the IEA emphasise the need for new efficiency standards to ensure that consumers are at least buying units that require significantly less power to function, therefore mitigating the overall energy demand. Variations on the traditional ‘vapour compression’ technology which has formed the basis for AC units for more than a century, may figure prominently. A water-based system was recently developed by researchers at the National University of Singapore (NUS) which, by using a de-humidifying membrane instead of chemical refrigerants such as chlorofluorocarbon and hydrochlorofluorocarbon, uses 40 per cent less electricity, and produces only one by-product: potable drinking water.

‘Our cooling technology can be tailored for all types of weather conditions, from humid climate in the tropics to arid climate in the deserts,’ says associate professor Ernest Chua from the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NUS. ‘While it can be used for indoor living and commercial spaces, it can also be easily scaled up to provide air-conditioning for clusters of buildings in an energy-efficient manner.’

This was published in the July 2018 edition of Geographical magazine

red line

NEVER MISS A STORY

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our free weekly newsletter!

red line

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

Geographical Week

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    The true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Energy

The Treasury has announced that it is considering imposing a…

Tectonics

Major earthquakes are triggering seismic activity half the world away

Climate

Marco Magrini finds that a warming world also means a…

Wildlife

Unchecked tourism is potentially reducing the number of cheetah cubs that…

Oceans

A relocated military base in Okinawa, Japan will cause ‘irreversible’…

Climate

The ongoing recovery of the planet’s ozone layer is being…

Oceans

The Ocean Cleanup has launched System 001, a floating barrier…

Nature

New videos reveal how plants respond to wounds, sending forth…

Geophoto

The recent heatwave had everyone longing for a drop of…

Wildlife

The demand for horseshoe crab blood – vital for testing…

Climate

One of the problems in getting accurate climate science out…

Wildlife

Italy is divided over the future of its wolves and…

Energy

A Scottish tidal power project in the Pentland Firth has…

Oceans

The world’s first full global analysis of beaches reveals the…

Geophoto

With the recent Saddleworth Moor fire, it can be easy…

Wildlife

Whale sharks have been found to not travel far from…

Wildlife

The Lone Star tick is spreading across North America, carrying…

Tectonics

Earlier this week, Indonesia was struck by a series of…

Energy

Efforts to reduce the energy drain of the internet are…

Energy

Coal’s rising popularity among climate-apathetic leaders is a worrying trend,…