With global air-conditioning usage poised to more than double between now and 2040, AC makers face the challenge to incorporate more energy-efficient units to offset the potential rise in emissions.
Never in recorded history has Paris been hotter than it was this summer, and specifically on July 25, 2019, when the temperature neared 42.55°C on Thursday, breaking its all-time high temperature of 40.4°C temperature in 1947. The same was true of Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, as a dangerous heat wave scorched Western Europe.
Parisians could be seen plunging fully clothed into the fountains of the Trocadéro, Viennese cooled themselves in municipal misters, and Amsterdamers dangled their feet in a repurposed kiddie pool at a cafe.
But here is what is far less likely to be seen: air conditioners. The technology that transformed American homes and offices over the last century still gets a chilly reception in much of Europe. And Europe is worried. Owen Landeg, the chief environmental public health scientist at Public Health England, warned that the extremely high temperatures were endangering older people, those in poor health, and very young children.
In a continent where air conditioning is seen as a luxury and only 5 percent of people have an air conditioner, rise in temperature to such an extent is highly unusual. People in Europe are not used to such a rise in temperature, and at the time unprepared to deal with it.
A study on cooling by the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that households in the European Union have only a quarter of the number of air-conditioning units as the United States, despite the EU having a larger population.
Triple-digit temperatures are relatively uncommon for most countries in the EU. But they are regular occurrences in large parts of the developing world – and those are some of the places most lacking in air conditioning. Less than 20 percent of households in Brazil, India, and Indonesia are equipped with air conditioners.
As income levels rise in the developing world, air conditioning becomes more accessible. That phenomenon is seen most vividly in China, where the number of air-conditioning units rose from 79 million in 1990 to 569 million in 2016. In this regard, India remains far behind, despite having a similar-sized population and a greater need for cooling.
With climate change fuelling more frequent and intense heat waves, and the continued growth of the middle class in Asia and Africa, global air-conditioning usage could more than double between now and 2040, according to the IEA. The challenge will be to incorporate more energy-efficient air-conditioning units to offset the potential rise in emissions.