Home Climate Change How the boom in air conditioning is fuelling global heating

How the boom in air conditioning is fuelling global heating

Rising temperatures create a vicious cycle as demand for electricity leads to more greenhouse emissions

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Air conditioning accounts for about a fifth of all electricity used in buildings worldwide. Photograph: seraficus/Getty Images
Air conditioning accounts for about a fifth of all electricity used in buildings worldwide. Photograph: seraficus/Getty Images

It is a vicious cycle – as the climate grows hotter, demand for air conditioning is booming and that is helping make the climate even hotter.

Air conditioning accounts for about a fifth of the total electricity used in buildings around the world. Much of that electricity comes from power stations giving off greenhouse gases, and to make matters worse, air conditioners can also leak hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, greenhouse gases thousands of times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

As the UK endures longer and more intense heatwaves, air conditioning here is becoming increasingly popular, and by the end of the century estimates suggest that air conditioning could increase the UK’s power consumption by up to 15% during the summer.

A more efficient air conditioner is being developed by Barocal, a spin-off company from Cambridge University. This is a heat pump that does away with conventional refrigerants and uses solid materials to release or absorb heat at different pressures as they change volume. The materials are more efficient than liquid refrigerants, are cheap and non-toxic, and the heat pumps can be used for either cooling or heating, helping solve two needs in one go.

This article was first published by The Guardian

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