Three years ago the “Doing Cold Smarter” Policy Commission from the University’s Birmingham Energy Institute was a lone voice highlighting the glaring emission of cooling from the big global debates around both the challenges of health, access to food, rural poverty and energy climate change and clean air.
Earlier this year, the IEA published a report looking at the implications of air conditioning on energy demand and climate change concluding that growing demand for air conditioners is one of the most critical blind spots in today’s energy debate. This week Sustainable Energy for All (SEforAll) launched a new report at the UN in New York – “Chilling Prospects: Providing Sustainable Cooling for All” which sets out to assess the growing risks of cooling globally.
Cooling is coming in from the cold and well it should. Cooling underpins the ability of millions to escape poverty, to keep our children healthy, vaccines stable, food nutritious, and our economies productive.
Access to cooling is now a fundamental issue of equity, and as temperatures hit record levels, this could also mean the difference between life or death for some. The SEforAll report in fact shows there are more than 1.1 billion people globally who face immediate risks from lack of access to cooling. The U.N.’s health agency says that heat stress linked to climate change is likely to cause 38,000 extra deaths a year worldwide between 2030 and 2050.
“In a world facing continuously rising temperatures, access to cooling is not a luxury – it’s essential for everyday life. It guarantees safe cold supply chains for fresh produce, safe storage of life-saving vaccines, and safe work and housing conditions,” said Rachel Kyte, CEO and Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All.
But as Kyte adds, “This Chilling Prospects report is a wake-up call. We must meet these needs in an energy efficient way, and without using ozone damaging substances. If not, the risks to life, health and the planet are significant.”
Last week, University of Birmingham released “A Cool World: defining the energy conundrum of cooling for all.” This new report for the first time provides an indication of the scale of the energy implications of ‘Cooling for All’: a scenario that would see ubiquitous penetration of cooling from cold chains to AC units – and consider next steps to manage this within our climate change and natural resource limits.
For the next 30 years, it is predicted that 19 cooling appliances will be installed every second; but even with this massive growth of the cooling sector, much of the world will still be without access to cooling, suffering the consequences: poverty, malnutrition, spoiled medicines, unsafe living and working environments.
Our analysis suggests that if we are to deliver access to Cooling for All, by 2050, the world could require 14 billion cooling appliances globally – four times as many as are in use today and 4.5 billion more than current global projections for 2050. This would see the cooling sector consume five times the amount of energy it does today.
Without radical intervention, ‘greening’ this volume of electricity could consume the world’s projected renewables capacity in 2050. Radical intervention means a reduction of around 70% in electricity usage for cooling. Optimistic projections produced by Green Cooling Initiative, the most comprehensive data set available, suggest around 30% may be possible, but with significant cost implications.
As we migrate from fossil fuels to renewables, we need to radically reshape the cooling landscape; combining technology, operations, financing, and consumer behaviour in a system perspective.
Pooling demand, understanding the portfolio of free, waste and renewable resources, considering the role of energy storage allows the re-mapping of processes and technology to achieve efficiencies that would not be considered from a sub-system perspective. Equally, it will enable the new business models to make cooling affordable and accessible to all.
Given the magnitude and complexity of the challenge and the urgency, the Birmimgham Energy Institute is advocating the establishment of a multi-disciplinary Centre of Excellence for Clean Cooling to lead this work. This can bring together the global expertise and connectivity with all key stakeholders to research, develop and accelerate to market the step-change pathways for achieving cheapest cost and lowest carbon emissions while meeting the wider social and economic cooling needs – access to clean cooling for all.
Key findings from SEforAll based on an analysis of 52 vulnerable countries in hot climates include:
- 1.1 billion people face cooling access risks, including:
- 470 million people in poor rural areas without access to safe food and medicines
- 630 million people in hotter, poor urban slums with little or no cooling to protect them against extreme heatwaves
- Nine countries have the biggest populations facing significant cooling risks. These countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America include: India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, China, Mozambique and Sudan.
- 3 billion people represent a different kind of cooling risk – a growing middle class, where limited purchasing options mean they may only be able to afford to buy less expensive and less efficient cooling devices, which could spike global energy demand with profound climate impacts.
Links to University of Birmingham report and SEforALL report: