Gulf News

The en­ergy drain in the cold econ­omy

A mul­tidis­ci­plinary cen­tre of ex­cel­lence is re­quired to bring global ex­per­tise to­gether to find ways to achieve sus­tain­able cool­ing

- By Toby Peters ■ Toby Peters is pro­fes­sor in Cold Econ­omy at the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham, UK.

With pop­u­la­tions grow­ing, along with con­tin­ued ur­ban­i­sa­tion and cli­mate change, there is no ques­tion that we will need far more cool­ing. By 2050, ac­cord­ing to the Green Cool­ing Ini­tia­tive, there could be more than 9.5 bil­lion cool­ing ap­pli­ances world­wide — more than 2.5 times to­day’s 3.6 bil­lion. Cool­ing, how­ever, is en­ergy in­ten­sive. Even with the devel­op­ment of more ef­fi­cient cool­ing tech­nolo­gies and other more ag­gres­sive en­ergy mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies, the cool­ing sec­tor will, on cur­rent tra­jec­tory, in­crease its over­all en­ergy con­sump­tion by at least 90 per cent to 7,500TWh/year by 2050, up from 3,900TWh in 2017.

How­ever, that is only half the pic­ture. De­spite the sig­nif­i­cant growth in cool­ing equip­ment stock, much of the world will re­mains con­sid­er­ably un­der­served com­pared with the most ad­vanced na­tions. Put an­other way, even with some 9.5 bil­lion cool­ing ap­pli­ances in use by 2050 this will not be suf­fi­cient to de­liver uni­ver­sal ac­cess to cool­ing, let alone meet tar­gets to reach the United Na­tions 2030 Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals.

With­out ‘Cool­ing for All’, food and medicine loss in the sup­ply chain will be high; food poi­son­ing from lack of do­mes­tic tem­per­a­ture man­age­ment will be sig­nif­i­cant; farm­ers will lack mar­ket con­nec­tiv­ity, hun­dreds of mil­lions of peo­ple will not have safe, let alone com­fort­able, liv­ing or work­ing en­vi­ron­ments; med­i­cal cen­tres will not have tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled ser­vices for post­na­tal care, etc.

We have a prob­lem.

Ef­fec­tive re­frig­er­a­tion is es­sen­tial to pre­serve food and medicine. It un­der­pins in­dus­try and eco­nomic growth, is key to sus­tain­able ur­ban­i­sa­tion as well as pro­vid­ing a lad­der out of ru­ral poverty. It in­creas­ingly makes much of the world bear­able — or even safe — to live in. But the growth of ar­ti­fi­cial cool­ing will cre­ate mas­sive de­mand for en­ergy and, un­less we can re­duce our need for cool­ing and roll out so­lu­tions for clean and sus­tain­able cool­ing pro­vi­sion, this will cause high lev­els of CO2e and pol­lu­tion.

As an in­di­ca­tion of the im­pact of wide­spread global ac­cess to cool­ing, at the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham we have looked at sce­nar­ios where the world has “Cool­ing for All”. The num­ber of cool­ing ap­pli­ances rises to more than 14 bil­lion. Even as­sum­ing ac­cel­er­ated tech­nol­ogy progress pro­jec­tions de­liv­er­ing ag­gres­sive en­ergy per­for­mance im­prove­ments, the en­ergy re­quire­ment still equates to 15,500 TWh which is ap­prox 2.5x the 6,300 TWh max­i­mum sec­tor al­lo­ca­tion en­vis­aged by the IEA 2 de­grees sce­nario.

To achieve the re­quired amount of cool­ing within the en­ergy bud­get avail­able would re­quire us to dou­ble the ef­fi­ciency of our cool­ing de­vices on an av­er­age, in ad­di­tion to the tech­nol­ogy progress pro­posed cur­rently. Al­ter­na­tively, to “green” this vol­ume of elec­tric­ity would re­quire more than 50 per cent of the to­tal pro­jected re­new­ables ca­pac­ity for all de­mands from trans­port to in­dus­try to our cities un­der the IEA’s 2 de­grees Cel­sius sce­nario.

If cool­ing is to be sus­tain­able, then we need more ef­fi­cient air-con­di­tion­ers and fridges, but this is not enough. We must also see a fun­da­men­tal over­haul of the way cool­ing is pro­vided.

Given the ur­gency and mag­ni­tude of the chal­lenge and the multi-part­ner and mul­tidis­ci­plinary re­search and de­liv­ery mech­a­nisms re­quired, to lead this work we urge the es­tab­lish­ment of a mul­tidis­ci­plinary Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence for Clean Cool­ing to bring the global ex­per­tise to­gether to re­search and de­velop the step-change path­ways for achiev­ing sus­tain­able cool­ing while meet­ing so­cial and eco­nomic cool­ing needs.

■ Start­ing to­day, we will run one opin­ion ar­ti­cle on sus­tain­abil­ity is­sues every week lead­ing up to the Abu Dhabi Sus­tain­abil­ity Week, which runs from Jan­uary 12 to 19, 2019.

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