What Does the Future Hold for Air Conditioning?

Worldwide use of air conditioning is likely to triple by 2050, making it one of the major sources of electricity demand, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

As World Environment Day prompts a closer look at how individuals and companies affect the world around us, the impact of this growth on the environment is particularly concerning. However, new technology could mean air conditioning solutions look very different in 30 years’ time.

Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, described air conditioning demand as a “blind spot” in the energy debate. Units sold in Japan and Europe are typically 25% more efficient than units available in the US and China, so the report called for performance standards that could halve the growth in energy use.

“With rising incomes, air conditioner ownership will skyrocket, especially in the emerging world,” said Dr Birol. “While this will bring extra comfort and improve daily lives, it is essential that efficiency performance for air conditioners be prioritised.”

The old and the new

The IEA’s report, The Future of Cooling, argues for stricter standards and better labelling to reduce energy demand, but the future may ultimately lie in different approaches to cooling.

Some of the more ambitious plans include so-called ‘cosmic cooling’. Researchers at Stanford University have experimented with vacuum chambers designed to draw heat from the air, then beam it into space.

A less futuristic option, meanwhile, is inspired by the origins of current cooling techniques. Air conditioners of the past used ice to cool the air and this principle has been renewed for a modern application, with water that is frozen overnight used to cool a building the following day.

A future-proof solution

Whatever may happen with these innovations, manufacturers are working now to improve the efficiency of commercial air conditioning solutions, as quotas designed to restrict the use of refrigerants with high potential to cause global warming come into effect.

Mitsubishi Electric recently launched its first variable refrigerant flow system to use R32, a refrigerant with a lower impact on the environment. Product marketing manager Mark Grayston described the system as a “future-proof solution” that makes a real difference in terms of corporate social responsibility.

The IEA report suggests the equivalent of 10 new air conditioners will be sold every second for the next 30 years, so there is a significant opportunity to reduce the impact on the environment through more energy-efficient solutions. Building owners, employers and staff all have a part to play, so if you’re interested in learning more about how you can improve your use of air conditioning, click below to contact the 361 Degrees team.

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