AC a major driver in global electricity demand growth: IEA

IEA BirolNew IEA analysis shows urgent need to improve cooling efficiency as global energy demand for ACs to triple by 2050. (Image source: Adobe Stock)Air conditioning will be one of the top drivers of global electricity demand over the next three decades, according to International Energy Agency’s (IEA) new report ‘The Future of Cooling’ that stresses the urgent need for policy action to improve cooling efficiency

Global energy demand from air conditioners is expected to triple by 2050, requiring new electricity capacity the equivalent to the combined electricity capacity of the US, the EU and Japan. The global stock of air conditioners in buildings will grow to 5.6bn by 2050, up from the recent 1.6bn, according to the report.

In countries such as the United States and Japan, more than 90 per cent of households have air conditioning, compared to only eight per cent of the 2.8bn people living in the hottest parts of the world. IEA said that with incomes and living standards improving in many developing countries, the growth in AC demand in hotter regions is set to soar.

Supplying power to these ACs comes with large costs and environmental implications. One crucial factor is that the efficiency of these new ACs can vary widely. For example, ACs sold in Japan and the EU are typically 25 per cent more efficient than those sold in the US and China. Efficiency improvements could cut the energy growth from AC demand in half through mandatory energy performance standards.

“Growing electricity demand for air conditioning is one of the most critical blind spots in today's energy debate," said Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA.

The report identifies major policy actions. In an efficient cooling scenario, which is compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement, the IEA finds that through stringent minimum energy performance standards and other measures such as labelling, the average energy efficiency of the stock of ACs worldwide could more than double between now and 2050. This would greatly reduce the need to build new electricity infrastructure to meet rising demand.

Making cooling more efficient would also yield multiple benefits, saving about US$2.9 trillion in investment, fuel and operating costs, said IEA.

The issue is particularly sensitive in the fastest-growing nations, with the biggest increase happening in hot countries like India where the share of AC in peak electricity load could reach 45 per cent in 2050, up from 10 per cent today without action. This will require large investments in new power plants to meet peak power demand at night, which cannot be met with solar PV technology.

“Setting higher efficiency standards for cooling is one of the easiest steps governments can take to reduce the need for new power plants, and allow them at the same time to cut emissions and reduce costs,” said Birol.

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