Climate Change: Air conditioning demand set to grow rapidly over the coming decades

Air conditioning installation

It’s been a hot summer in the Northern hemisphere, with peak temperatures setting new monthly records. But the stifling heat has been thankfully tempered by the simple miracle of air conditioning in homes and offices, shopping malls and movie theatres.

While some are debating whether air conditioning is an unnecessary luxury in the age of global warming, the reality is that the global demand for space cooling is set to grow in coming decades.

Space heating and cooling systems currently account for around 40% of building energy consumption around the world. And as standards of living rise, more than 80 percent of the growth in space cooling growth is expected to take place  in emerging and developing economies, pushing up energy demand. Much of that growth will take place in cities, which is also where the greatest potential for energy savings can be found. Under the IEA’s scenario that limits the growth in global temperatures to 2 degrees by 2050 (or 2DS), urban areas will be responsible for nearly 85% of the anticipated energy savings in cooling systems.

160823 Air Conditioner - Graph 1

In OECD countries, a significant share of space cooling demand today comes from the services sector. However in non-OECD countries, energy consumption from cooling systems in residential buildings is set to increase dramatically as household demand for comfort increases in hot climates. This will be spurred by an increase in more than 900 million new households that are expected by 2050 in urban areas in non-OECD countries.

160823 Air Conditioner - Graph 2

These new households represent an opportunity to implement innovative policy and technological solutions that can limit energy demand for cooling, and keep the world on track under the 2 Degrees Scenario. These include, for example, the enforcement of building energy codes that reduce cooling demand through efficient building envelope and equipment technologies, including through renovations of existing service buildings. For new buildings, the first priority in building design and policy development should be to reduce the need for cooling altogether. For example, in warm climates, new construction and building renovations could incorporate reflective surfaces. In some cases, buildings can take advantage of natural and night-time ventilation. These innovations can ultimately reduce energy investment needs while increasing residential comfort.

To learn more about urban energy systems, see the latest IEA Energy Technology Perspectives 2016.

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