Study Estimates Number of AC Units Needed Will Triple in Next Thirty Years

Photo: Screengrab YouTube

By Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

Increasing populations, incomes, urbanization, and temperatures could “triple the number of AC units installed worldwide by midcentury, pushing the total toward 6 billion,” as James Temple reported for the MIT Technology Review. This could create one of the “largest sources of rising electricity demand around the world.”

We are already seeing a preview into the future — during California’s recent unprecedented heatwave, “millions of air conditioners forced the state’s grid operators to plunge hundreds of thousands of households into darkness.”

Why This Matters: This is the central tension of climate change. As the world warms, cooling will be even more necessary. This is not only for comfort — it’s “for health and survival in large parts of the world,” as Temple points out. But air conditioners also  “produce enough heat to measurably boost urban temperatures,” while also leaking “highly potent greenhouse gases.” And, as Emma Charlton reported for the World Economic Forum, this need for air conditioners can also increase “energy poverty,” as “more people struggl[e] to meet their energy bills from their household income.” We need a better solution to this problem that neither exacerbates climate change nor the indirect impacts of additional energy demands on the world’s most vulnerable.

Increasing Air Conditioning Units, Increasing Costs

As the world gets warmer, we will need more air conditioning units. But this “is, and always will be, a massive guzzler of energy,” to quote Temple. And it also guzzles more costs. As a new study published by ScienceDirect shows, if a household starts to use air conditioning, they will spend between 35% and 42% more on electricity. This can, as Charlton noted, put “an additional burden on families who might not be able to afford the most efficient appliances and could result in spending being diverted away from food or education towards cooling.”

Towards a Clean Future

The solution to this problem, many have argued, lies in a transition to a clean, equitable energy future. As the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty has argued, access to energy is the “‘golden thread’ that weaves together economic growth, human development, and environmental sustainability.” And, indeed, as the World Economic Forum reported, one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all by 2030.”

What does this world actually look like, though? As the MIT Technology Review has argued, it must be clean. Temple writes, “Transitioning the electricity grid as a whole to greater use of clean energy sources, like solar and wind, will steadily reduce the indirect greenhouse-gas emissions from the energy used to power air-conditioning units.”

Alongside this, we can “cut the direct emissions from AC by switching to alternative refrigerants, the critical compounds within cooling devices that absorb heat from the air” and “ease the electricity loads required for cooling buildings” by adding insulation, sealing air leaks, and more.

This will require concerted effort and will on the part of countries both individually and collectively. But it is very necessary if we are going to imagine a more just, sustainable future.

Up Next

Update: Joshua Tree Petition Granted For One Year While Officials Conduct Study

Update: Joshua Tree Petition Granted For One Year While Officials Conduct Study

by Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer On Tuesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to accept a petition that will grant the Joshua tree, the famous twisty-limbed yucca plant native to the Mojave desert, endangered species status for one year while the state conducts a study. The plant is now considered a “candidate species” […]

Continue Reading 658 words
Wildfire Smoke Increases COVID-19 Risk for Frontline Communities

Wildfire Smoke Increases COVID-19 Risk for Frontline Communities

by Razi Beresin-Scher and Miro Korenha According to recent reporting from The Hill, atmospheric smoke is exacerbating the toll of the COVID-19 virus in Oregon and California. Smoke inhalation weakens the immune systems of those suffering from asthma and other underlying respiratory conditions, compromising their ability to recover from the virus.  Researchers at the Harvard […]

Continue Reading 584 words
Wildfire Smoke is Becoming a Public Health Threat

Wildfire Smoke is Becoming a Public Health Threat

As wildfires rage across the Western United States each summer and fall, the immediate headlines of these disasters focus on the destruction and displacement they cause. However, as we’ve seen this summer, states like California and Colorado have been engulfed by wildfire smoke that’s subsequently spread across the rest of the country. Yet we know […]

Continue Reading 578 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.