Sustainable air-conditioning solutions in EU buildings

In a recent briefing note, the European Environment Agency (EEA) discusses sustainable solutions to the growing need for cooling in Europe.

As Europe experiences rising temperatures, an ageing population and increasing urbanisation make the population more vulnerable to heat. During summer 2022, the need for cooling (generic term used by the EEA to refer to air conditioning) became a serious issue in Greece, Italy, Spain and other countries as a result of long-lasting and repeated heatwaves combined with high energy prices and the war in Ukraine.[1] In a recent briefing note, the European Environment Agency (EEA) discussed sustainable solutions to address heat stress, including prioritising passive cooling solutions, improving the energy efficiency of buildings, communicating individual good practices and promoting district cooling solutions.[1]


So far, energy use for air conditioning in buildings constitutes a modest percentage among the 27 EU Member States but peak electricity demand for cooling is expected to increase throughout Europe. In 2019, Eurostat estimated that the amount of energy used for cooling in residential buildings represented an average of 0.4% of the total final energy consumption, a much higher percentage in countries such as Malta, Cyprus and Greece, at 11%, 10% and 5% respectively. According to EEA, all studies agree that energy use for cooling buildings is likely to increase. Findings from the “Hotmaps — Heating & Cooling outlook until 2050” project indicate that, the share of energy used for cooling in both residential and non-residential buildings, could be between 8% and 9% in 2050, compared to only 2% in 2012.[2] 


Based on existing knowledge and practice, the EEA highlights the following practical priorities for sustainable cooling: 

  • Consider nature-based solutions, green infrastructure (e.g., green corridors, parks and trees in cities, wind corridors), surfaces with low solar absorption ( cool materials and paints) or urban shadow infrastructures. 
  • Ensure that new and renovated buildings are optimally designed to limit energy needs for cooling in summer, for instance through designs that allow natural ventilation and cooling (e.g., patio and atrium designs).  
  • Prioritise passive cooling solutions, such as summer shading, natural night and day ventilation, and very low energy consumption options, such as well-designed ceiling fans. 
  • Address residual cooling needs by using low greenhouse gas (GHG), highly energy-efficient active cooling solutions fuelled by renewable energy (e.g., on-site photovoltaic systems). 
  • Consider targeted awareness raising, behavioural learning, behavioural changes and climate justice as integral parts of the sustainable cooling approach. 



Did you know? Earlier this year, the IIR published an Informatory Note on passive cooling prepared by Renato Lazzarin, President of IIR Section E on Air conditioning, heat pumps and energy recovery.
Download the Informatory Note on passive cooling




[1] EEA. Briefing no. 20/2022. Cooling buildings sustainably in Europe: exploring the links between climate change mitigation and adaptation, and their social impacts. doi: 10.2800/61355

[2] Kranzl, L., et al., 2018, updated in 2021), Hotmaps — Heating & Cooling outlook until 2050, EU-28.