Investing in more efficient ACs could cut future AC world energy demand by 45%
Of the 1.6 billion air conditioners (ACs) in use throughout the world at the end of 2016, over half were in just two countries : China, which has 570 million units, and the United States, where there are 375 million. Of the 2.8 billion people living in the hottest parts of the world, only 8% currently possess ACs, compared to 90% ownership in the United States and Japan. Total electricity used for air conditioning worldwide amounted to 2 000 TWh in 2016, or nearly 10% of the 21 000 TWh of electricity consumed globally. It corresponds to emissions of 1 130 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2 based on the carbon intensity of electricity generation at times of air-conditioning demand and taking into account losses in transmission and distribution.
According to the IEA « Baseline Scenario », which takes into account the likely effect of current policies and targets, energy needs for space cooling will triple by 2050. Soaring AC ownership would drive overall electricity demand to unprecedented levels.
By 2050, around 2/3 of the world’s households could have an AC. China, India and Indonesia would together account for half of the total number.
According to this scenario, global energy use for space cooling in 2050 would reach 6200 TWh, with nearly 70% of the increase coming from the residential sector, and much of it taking place in a handful of emerging economies. The share of space cooling in total electricity use in buildings would grow to 30%. Air conditioning would become the strongest driver of growth in buildings' electricity demand, responsible for 40% of the total electricity growth. In absolute terms, this means air conditioning growth would require adding the equivalent of the total electricity demand of the United States and Germany today.
There is an opportunity to quickly influence the growth of air conditioning-related energy demand through policies to improve efficiency. This report presents an « Efficient Cooling Scenario » based on much stronger policy action that considers first and foremost the implications of much tighter minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) for air-conditioning equipment, in all countries in an assertive and progressive manner, which drives up the average efficiency of equipment installed.
The IEA states that the average energy efficiency of ACs sold today is less than half of what is typically available on the shelves, and one third of the best available technology.
Globally, the use of energy for space cooling in the « Efficient Cooling Scenario » would grow by less than half as much as in the Baseline Scenario. Air conditioning-related energy demand would climb to 3 400 TWh in 2050 – 45% lower than the level in the « Baseline Scenario ». The savings (2800 TWh) are equivalent to all the electricity consumed by the European Union in 2016. This global AC energy efficiency drive could take effect immediately, given the relatively short lifetimes of ACs compared with buildings or power sector infrastructure.
Measures to make ACs more energy efficient, coupled with decarbonisation of power generation, lead to a huge reduction in air conditioning-related CO2 emissions. By 2050, those emissions would drop to just 150 million tonnes in the Efficient Cooling Scenario – a mere 7% of those in the Baseline Scenario and 13% of their 2016 level. Half of the savings would come directly from the improved efficiency of ACs. Moreover, USD 1.2 trillion in power generation investments could be saved globally with more efficient ACs. Average per capita electricity costs for cooling would be almost halved. The IEA stresses that rigorous action by governments is needed urgently to curb the rapid growth in demand for air conditioning and achieve the outcomes described in the Efficient Cooling Scenario. Priority must be given to mandatory standards and labelling for ACs. They are relatively straightforward to introduce and enforce, and hold the potential to make the biggest and quickest dent in rising cooling demand in the coming decades.