HVAC&R is the key to averting climate crisis

A new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA) has flagged the huge potential of the HVAC&R sector to reduce global emissions.

The Cooling Emissions and Policy Synthesis Report notes that over the next four decades, international action on energy-efficient, climate-friendly cooling could avoid as much as 460 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – roughly equal to eight years of global emissions at 2018 levels. It sets out 10 high-level approaches to seizing these benefits, ranging from national cooling action plans and building codes, to better technician training and more sustainable cold chains.

Number one on the list is the phase-down of hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants that exacerbate global warming. This phase-down has been formalised through the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, and at last count 100 countries had ratified the amendment – including Australia. Some of the world’s largest HFC users and producers, however, are yet to sign, including China, India and the United States. This action alone, if carried out by all countries, has the potential to avoid as much as 0.4°C of global warming by 2100.

The report also highlights the importance of making cooling more energy- efficient through measures such as Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) and labelling. The IEA estimates that doubling the energy efficiency of air conditioning by 2050 would reduce the need for 1,300 gigawatts of additional electricity generation capacity to meet peak demand – the equivalent of all the coal-fired power generation capacity in China and India in 2018.

Savings in energy efficiency will be made even greater because of the massive growth in cooling. Worldwide, an estimated 3.6 billion cooling appliances are in use, a number that is growing by 10 every second. The report says that if cooling is provided to everybody who needs it – and not just those who can afford it – this would require as many as 14 billion cooling appliances by 2050.

Rocky Mountain Institute fellow Iain Campbell – one of the technical and scientific reviewers of the report and a member of the Global Cooling Prize initiative – says this publication adds to a growing body of work on the harmful impact of below-potential-efficiency cooling products and systems on consumers, energy systems and the environment.

“The report rightly points out that the global growth in this sector is largely still in front of us,” says Campbell, “but with 10 cooling devices being sold every second we need to act with urgency to dramatically reduce the consequent harmful impacts of this growth.

“The time has passed to nibble away at increased efficiency, we need to turn the way we address efficiency upside down, which will require policy-makers and industry to come together and courageously lead. This means that instead of looking at the worst performing products and setting the MEPS 20 per cent higher to keep them out of the market and provide some protection to consumers, we look at the best commercially available technology products and set the MEPS 20 per cent lower to really protect consumers while ensuring sufficient space for competing offerings.

“This change in emphasis from being guided by the floor of performance to being guided by the ceiling of performance would have a staggering impact.”

The report also notes the opportunity of governments to focus on more sustainable HVAC&R in their post-COVID-19 recovery plans.

“As governments roll out massive economic stimulus packages to deal with the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, they have a unique opportunity to accelerate progress in efficient, climate-friendly cooling,” says IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol.

“Higher efficiency standards are one of the most effective tools governments have to meet energy and environmental objectives. By improving cooling efficiency, they can reduce the need for new power plants, cut emissions and save consumers money. This new report gives policy makers valuable insights to help them address the global cooling challenge.”

To read the full report, click here.

2 Replies to “HVAC&R is the key to averting climate crisis

  1. 31% american energy use is space heating&cooling, so in this field also I follow Tesla.
    I think thermal storage will play a larger role, just as we use batteries.
    I was reading the other day how many ppl in new York plug in window units, in Australia off the shelf plug in split reverse cycle are popular.
    Certainly keep the emphasis on small there is a fair amount of embedded energy in 14 billion units

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