One major topic that often goes unnoticed in the global debate around climate change is the critical role of efficient space cooling solutions in lowering energy consumption and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Driven by population increase, urbanisation, economic growth and improvement in living standards, global demand for cooling has been growing significantly in the last couple of decades. Energy use for space cooling in buildings has more than tripled since 1990, making space cooling the fastest growing energy use in buildings, and leading to a steep increase in C02 emissions, up to 1,130 million tonnes globally – a major environmental impact.
Moreover, with space cooling now representing around 15% of peak residential electricity demand - and up to 70% in hotter countries such as in the Middle East - the rising demand for cooling significantly drives up the overall cost of generating and distributing electricity.
As global economic growth continues to shift south, to mostly hotter and underequipped emerging countries, space cooling demand - and its environmental and economic impacts - will continue to soar.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates, in its baseline scenario, that the energy use of space cooling will more than triple by 2050, up to more than 6,000 TWh per year, becoming the second strongest driver in overall electricity demand growth. Similarly, the share of cooling in peak demand will continue to rise sharply, in particular in hotter countries, requiring expensive investments in peak generation and distribution capacity.
Strong and well-coordinated policy action is required to mitigate these impacts, in particular though the promotion and advancement of energy efficient equipment and solutions.
With energy consumption 20 to 30 percent below that of the most efficient conventional cooling solutions, and 60 to 80 percent below that of the average conventional cooling systems, District Cooling has a major role to play in tackling this global challenge.
While District Cooling has been growing steadily, its penetration (and that of other similar centralized air and water cooled chiller technology) has remained limited: around 2 percent globally, and at most around 20 percent in the most advanced market globally - the GCC.
A number of avenues are available to policy-makers to further advance these efficient technologies. These include ensuring a proper coordination between urban planning and infrastructure development, including the mandating of district cooling where economically relevant (i.e. higher density areas).
This was a key topic of discussion at the most recent United Nations Climate Action Summit, led by members of the Cool Coalition, a global network connecting over 80 partners from the private sector, government, cities, international organizations, finance, academia and civil society. The Coalition was set up in April 2019, and since then has worked to expand access to cooling while reducing its climate impact.
During the Summit, members of the Coalition announced major new commitments on efficient, climate-friendly cooling which will make a huge positive impact on climate change, help achieve sustainable development and save trillions of dollars.
In addition to the Coalition’s efforts and those of individual nations, policy-makers around the world should also leverage existing district cooling infrastructure, through retrofitting programs that connect old building stocks with low-efficiency cooling systems to existing networks, as well as promote district cooling with private and public sectors stakeholders and raise awareness of its many benefits.
These benefits and the overall importance of increasing the adoption of District Cooling internationally, were highlighted during the 25th UN Climate Change Conference which took place in Madrid at the end of this year, and energy efficiency and sustainable development will be at the heart of discussions at the upcoming Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ASDW), taking place from 11-18 January, 2020.
We are too familiar with the very real impacts of these rising emissions from unpredictable changes in weather patterns to the degradation of natural ecosystems. Hence, Tabreed will be taking an active role in this debate to highlight the challenges of soaring cooling-related energy demand and the solutions that the district cooling industry can offer.