Renowned entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson has lashed out at the global air conditioning industry for its lack of innovation, and has reiterated his backing of the Global Cooling Prize as a much-needed incentive to disrupt the status quo.
Branson has noted the expected growth of domestic air conditioning – from the already massive $100bn current global market to four times that size by 2050 – and the potential knock-on effect for climate change. He also takes aim at the major players for their failure to develop more energy-efficient equipment.
“A handful of companies dominate the channels to market, and generally spend far more on advertising than they do on R&D,” writes Branson. “Incumbent manufacturers, left to their own devices, won’t do what we need. They are in the business of selling as many air conditioners as they can, as cheaply as they can. To the extent that they think about efficiency at all, it is because regulators force them too – and they don’t force them very much, either.
“The control exercised by a small number of players means that entrepreneurs and innovators find it difficult to find their way to buyers – or investors who will back them. High R&D costs present a major barrier to entry.”
According to Branson, the most advanced AC products have only achieved 14 percent of their maximum theoretical efficiency. He says this seems “pathetic” when compared with commercial LED lighting (which has achieved nearly 70 per cent of maximum theoretical efficiency) and solar panels (40 per cent).
Yet Branson also highlights a positive side of the situation: that there are efficiencies that can be readily unlocked. And he champions the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Global Cooling Prize as a way of discovering a more efficient AC solution. Offering a total prize pool of US$3m, the initiative is now accepting applications.