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Cold air conundrum

26 February 2016

The need for eco-friendly HVAC-R solutions has never been more pressing than now, with the demand for air conditioning and refrigeration growing so fast it’s threatening to smash pledges and targets for global warming.

“Cold is the Cinderella of the energy debate,” says Toby Peters, visiting professor of power and the cold economy at the University of Birmingham. “Most people tend to think about energy in terms of heat and lighting and transport. But more and more, it’s going to be about cold.”

Global power consumption for air conditioning is already forecast to surge 33-fold by 2100, driven by the warming planet, developing world incomes rise and advancing urbanisation.

The United States, for example, uses as much electricity to keep buildings cool as the whole of Africa uses on everything. In Mumbai, India, air conditioning accounts for about 40 per cent of power use, while more than half of Saudi Arabia’s peak summer power consumption, (generated by burning one billion barrels of oil a year), also goes on air conditioning.

Research by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency also predicts that by about 2060, the amount of energy used worldwide in cooling will overtake that used in heating.

According to Richard Williams of Herriot-Watt University: “In the West, we’ve traditionally been more concerned with efficiently capturing and reusing heat. The source for cold has mostly been conventional electricity, or diesel. We’ve just been very slow to realise how important cold has become to our lifestyles.”

Replicating the technologies of yester-year to run our air conditioning and refrigeration is tipped to head us towards environmental disaster. We must “completely rethink cold”, says Peters.

“Is sucking electricity off the grid really the best way to provide it?”


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