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
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.