The International Energy Agency forecast Tuesday that the number of air conditioners in buildings worldwide will more than triple by 2050, reaching 5.6 billion as demand surges in India, China and elsewhere.
The growing use of air conditioners in homes and offices around the world will be one of the top drivers of global electricity demand over the next three decades, according to new analysis by the International Energy Agency that stresses the urgent need for policy action to improve cooling efficiency.
A new IEA report – “The Future of Cooling” – shows that without new efficiency standards the world will be facing a “cold crunch” from the growth in cooling demand in coming decades.
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 United States, the EU and Japan today. The global stock of air conditioners in buildings will grow to 5.6 billion by 2050, up from 1.6 billion today – which amounts to 10 new ACs sold every second for the next 30 years, according to the report.
Using air conditioners and electric fans to stay cool already accounts for about a fifth of the total electricity used in buildings around the world – or 10% of all global electricity consumption today. But as incomes and living standards improve in many developing countries, the growth in AC demand in hotter regions is set to soar. AC use is expected to be the second-largest source of global electricity demand growth after the industry sector, and the strongest driver for buildings by 2050.
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 European Union are typically 25% more efficient than those sold in the United States 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, the Executive Director of the IEA. “With rising incomes, air conditioner ownership will skyrocket, especially in the emerging world. While this will bring extra comfort and improve daily lives, it is essential that efficiency performance for ACs be prioritized. Standards for the bulk of these new ACs are much lower than where they should be.”
Absent major efficiency gains, the added power demand will make it much harder to achieve the kind of worldwide carbon emissions cuts that would be needed to ward off potentially catastrophic warming levels.
The amount of energy needed for cooling will triple, reaching a level equal to China’s total power demand, the new report finds. As the world warms in response to human-caused climate change, the need for air conditioning will become more acute, particularly in the Middle East and South Asia.
- IEA estimates that left unchecked, air conditioning will account for 18% of the total worldwide increase in CO2 emissions by 2050.
- And rising demand for cooling is “already putting enormous strain on electricity systems in many countries,” IEA said.
Without action to address energy efficiency, energy demand for space cooling will more than triple by 2050 – consuming as much electricity as all of China and India today.