The International Energy Agency (IEA) has called for urgent policy action to improve cooling efficiency, following new analysis that growing use of air conditioners in homes and offices around the world will be one of the top drivers of global electricity demand over the next three decades.
The new IEA report – The Future of Cooling – found that without new efficiency standards, the world will be facing a “cold crunch” from the growth in cooling demand in coming decades.
According to the report, global energy demand from air conditioners is expected to triple by 2050, requiring new electricity capacity the equivalent to the combined electricity capacity of the United States, the EU and Japan today.
The global stock of air conditioners in buildings will grow to 5.6 billion by 2050, up from 1.6 billion today – which amounts to ten new ACs sold every second for the next 30 years, according to the report.
Using air conditioners and electric fans to stay cool already accounts for about a fifth of the total electricity used in buildings around the world – or 10 per cent of all global electricity consumption today.
AC use is expected to be the second-largest source of global electricity demand growth after the industry sector, and the strongest driver for buildings by 2050.
“Growing electricity demand for air conditioning is one of the most critical blind spots in today’s energy debate,” Executive Director of IEA, Dr Fatih Birol said.
“With rising incomes, air conditioner ownership will skyrocket, especially in the emerging world. While this will bring extra comfort and improve daily lives, it is essential that efficiency performance for ACs be prioritised. Standards for the bulk of these new ACs are much lower than where they should be.”
The report identifies key policy actions. In an Efficient Cooling Scenario, which is compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement, the IEA finds that through stringent minimum energy performance standards and other measures such as labelling, the average energy efficiency of the stock of ACs worldwide could more than double between now and 2050.
This would greatly reduce the need to build new electricity infrastructure to meet rising demand.
“Setting higher efficiency standards for cooling is one of the easiest steps governments can take to reduce the need for new power plants, and allow them at the same time to cut emissions and reduce costs,” Dr Birol said.