The Needs of Tropical Mega-Cities Could Drive Innovation in Air Conditioning

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Nearly all of the globe’s top 30 mega-cities are in the tropics, in developing nations. As they develop – while simultaneously, over the coming decades; the climate heats further, the demand for air conditioning in these gigantic mega-cities (in India, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria) is going to skyrocket, according to a study by Michael Sivak at the University of Michigan.

The potential is for a huge increase in energy demands. India’s 18 million people, just in Mumbai alone could potentially need energy for cooling that is equivalent to a quarter of the demand of the entire US.

Simultaneously, climate change itself makes it imperative that the world replace fossil sources for electricity to run the air conditioners that will help make a warmer planet bearable.


As a result, one of the most rapidly growing new business sectors will be in innovation in low carbon cooling technologies. Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution!

We have a choice still, between a warmer planet and a truly chaotic phase change in climate. It depends on whether we continue to innovate – like California did – to meet this challenge.

Currently, consumers in the undeveloped world with no air conditioning have a 3 ton carbon footprint. US consumers average a 20 ton footprint, split evenly between how we heat and cool the buildings we live and work in, and what we drive between them.

We could do better. With 30 year old technology, Californians average only a 10 ton carbon footprint thanks to appliance and building efficiency mandates like Title 24 signed by former Governor Jerry Brown in the eighties.

Germany proposes that everyone on the planet should aim for a 5 ton footprint, which is what the planet can support sustainably. If everyone lived like Americans currently we would need five planets. Air conditioning that cools future mega-cities in the developing world should be a One Planet solution to get us all to 5 carbon tons each.

An example would be a new refrigerant developed by Honeywell with a 99.7% lower global warming potential. It was developed to meet European emissions standards under Kyoto climate legislation. Another example would be an invention that ARPA-E has funded that makes it possible to do without any refrigerant in A/C altogether.

Image: Maxsimus

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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