Demand for cooling could outstrip heating as Earth warms

Energy use for cooling could jump 90%, researchers claim. [Shutterstock]

A burgeoning middle class and a warming world will result in energy demand for cooling overtaking that for heating by the middle of the century, researchers have predicted. EURACTIV’s partner The Guardian reports.

Energy use for air conditioning, refrigeration and other cooling appliances will jump 90% on 2017 levels, experts estimated, posing a challenge for energy grids and efforts to curb climate change.

The University of Birmingham said the rise would come even with conservative estimates of how much demand for cooling was likely to increase in China, India and hotter countries.

“Cooling just really isn’t part of the big debate. And yet we lose 200m tonnes of food each year because of a lack of cooling. That has massive repercussions,” said Toby Peters, the professor of cold economy at the university.

IEA analyst: A heating and cooling target 'could make a big difference'

As talks on the EU’s renewable energy rules resume, one of the main talking points is how to decarbonise the heating sector, and deploy technologies like heat pumps and district heating. The International Energy Agency’s Ute Collier told EURACTIV in an interview that the task is complex and difficult.

The institute will host the first ever conference on “clean cold” on Wednesday, exploring how to tackle the problem and boost the 0.2% of energy R&D budgets spend on cooling.

Sir David King, the former government chief scientific adviser and top climate adviser to the Foreign Office, said cooling was critically important. “In terms of energy usage, this is a major issue,” he told the Guardian.

The biggest energy demand for cooling comes from air conditioning to keep people comfortable, but it is also essential for stopping food from going to waste and protecting medicines.

While air conditioning in UK homes is a rarity today, Peters said it was a question of when, not if, the technology became normal for householders.

“I think with temperature rises we will see more and more installations of air conditioning units,” he said.

Global sales of cooling equipment are expected to increase from $140bn (£98bn) today to $260bn by 2050.

That growth presents not just a challenge but a chance for the UK to develop and export new technology.

No ‘one size fits all’ solution to decarbonise heating and cooling

Heating and cooling our homes, businesses and industrial processes makes up half of the EU’s energy demand. Yet, decarbonising the sector is proving a daunting task for which multiple solutions will be needed, industry experts say.

“It’s not just how many air con units will we have but what is the export opportunity,” said Peters.

The UK has taken the lead on developing greener and more efficient cooling, as part of a clean energy research initiative by 22 countries announced at the Paris climate summit.

If the world’s future appetite for cooling is provided by the current fossil fuel-heavy energy mix, carbon emissions will rise 2.5 gigatonnes by 2050. Global emissions from energy were 35 gigatonnes last year.

To meet the growth in cooling without pushing up emissions would take almost all the new solar power expected to be installed by mid-century, Peters calculated.

He said: “Yes, we need to look at more efficient cooling technologies and greening electricity, but when you see the size of the demand we have to be much more radical in our thinking and start to invest in [tackling] this.”

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