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Investing in a Cooler Future

By Mark Lister

By every measure, cooling is an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to climate change response. Air conditioners and fans account for nearly 20% of the total electricity used in buildings around the world today; there is also the added multiplier of the so-called F-gases used for refrigerants that are also powerful greenhouse gases. Globally, energy related emissions are roughly equally split between space cooling, stationary refrigeration and mobile cooling.

Cooling is critical for achieving a number of development goals, including for storage and transport of food, shelf life of medicines, and overall health and productivity, among many others. Yet more than a billion people have clear shortfalls in their access to cooling. As temperatures and incomes rise, so too does demand for cooling and higher levels of comfort, with increases in both days of cooling demand and cooling penetration levels set to triple overall demand for cooling globally by 2050.

How will we meet this spiraling demand? Right now, the $130bn market for cooling is dominated by relatively inefficient air-conditioners. The market is large, and growing fast. It is imperative that the cooling industry and the whole ‘ecosystem’ of actors that supply cooling in a country have incentives aligned towards making sure the expected upswing in cooling demand is met as efficiently as possible. Strong policy around minimum energy performance standards for cooling appliances, such as recommended by UN Environment’s United for Efficiency program, are essential. There needs to be buyer incentives to choose efficiency, and better information about the technology options. And importantly, we need to think more and more about the cooling resources we already have, because meeting all cooling demand electrically will leave us with an enormous electricity supply requirement, and ever-growing emissions. We need to start thinking thermally – about how we can integrate sources of heat and cold already nearby in our ambient environment, and better harness them towards the thermal requirements of our growing communities.

This week I am at the Annual Meeting of the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Program (K-CEP) in Mexico City, on behalf of the Private Financing Advisory Network (PFAN), hosed by UNIDO. The K-CEP program supports PFAN to seek out and accelerate cooling investment projects and technologies that can help mainstream and normalise the uptake of efficient cooling solutions. In that sense PFAN is a complement to K-CEP’s work to provide technical assistance to governments and their advisors to similarly build capacity for clean cooling solutions, through its newly launched NDC Facility.

I’m really looking forward to learning from other global cooling programs, seeing what synergies we can find, and seeing how we can play our part in spurring action. Finding new partners and catalysing more investments into this space really would be cool.


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