Published on July 17th, 2017 | by Steve Hanley0
The Air Conditioning We Use To Cool Us Makes The Planet Hotter
July 17th, 2017 by Steve Hanley
According to Drawdown editor Paul Hawken, if wind energy could provide 21.6% of the world’s energy by 2050, that would eliminate 84.6 gigatons of carbon emissions. A lofty and laudable goal, one worth aiming for. But did you know that re-engineering air conditioning and refrigeration systems could keep even more carbon emissions out of the atmosphere? 89.7 gigatons, to be exact.
Eliminate HFCs For Refrigeration
A new study by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggests improved efficiency in refrigeration and phasing out fluorinated gases used for cooling could eliminate a full degree (Celsius) of warming by 2100. The best estimates are that doing nothing will result in a 4°C to 5°C increase in global temperatures, so addressing the refrigeration issue could amount to eliminating 20% to 25% of that projected increase.
Some of us remember when CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) were eliminated as refrigerants because of the damage they did to the earth’s ozone layer. They were replaced with HFCs (hydroflouracarbons), which do not attack the ozone layer but have an outsized influence on global warming. Some studies indicate they can be thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to heating the atmosphere.
HFCs are expected to be 19% of all global emissions by 2050. Why? Because the rest of the world wants to be cool just like the developed world. Today, fewer than 10% of residences in India have air conditioning, yet the energy to run them uses about 50% of electrical generating capacity in cities like New Delhi.
Demand For Air Conditioning Is Soaring
Demand for air conditioners is soaring in India as well as countries throughout Asia and Africa, where more than 1.5 billion units are expected to be sold by 2050. “This is going to matter a lot,” said Lucas Davis, an associate professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. “If one is thinking about energy and environment in the next couple decades, you have to think about cooling.”
All those new air conditioners will require a massive increase in electricity generation, which could spur construction of hundreds of new generating plants, many of them fueled by coal. The cycle of destruction simply gets worse and worse.
Treaties to ban HFCs are under discussion worldwide, with the US conspicuous by its absence in the discussion. Senator James Inhofe, the know-nothing dunderhead from Oklahoma, has pledged to block any such treaty in the Senate.
Making Air Conditioning More Efficient
But no treaty is needed for manufacturers to agree to more energy efficient air conditioning standards. The Lawrence Berkeley study argues that even a 30% improvement in efficiency could avoid the peak load equivalent of about 1,500 power plants by 2030. That’s significant.
“Many countries haven’t updated their standards in a while,” said Nihar Shah, a senior scientific engineering associate at the Lawrence Berkeley laboratory and lead author of the study, which examined markets in 19 nations. “In most of these countries, there’s an opportunity to do both things together.” China could be key to the push for more efficient air conditioners, since it will manufacture many of them.
Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, a nonprofit based in Washington that commissioned the lab study, said efficiency was not getting enough attention. “We don’t pay attention to the fact that demand for air-conditioning is growing, just as the world is becoming more populated and richer, and will grow at a much greater rate as the world gets warmer,” he said.