Meeting the demand for cooling in a warming world

By Michael Garry, Aug 09, 2019, 08:56 10 minute reading

Professor Toby Peters from the University of Birmingham explains the crucial need for cooling systems that serve everyone while not pushing the climate to the brink.

It is well known that, as the world warms because of climate change, the demand for cooling is expected to skyrocket, not just for air conditioning, but also in the cold chain and many other applications. What is not often understood is that, at the same time, there is insufficient cooling to serve humanity, even under current climate conditions.

In his groundbreaking new report, “A Cool World: Defining the Energy Conundrum of Cooling for All,” Professor Toby Peters of the University of Birmingham, U.K., addresses the dual challenge of meeting the cooling needs of all people while also developing solutions for the huge spike in energy required to meet those demands. It is a complex dilemma calling for many approaches, including the accelerated adoption of natural refrigerants.

Professor Peters, an internationally recognized expert in clean cold technology, breaks down the issue in the following interview.

// shecco: What is the overall message of the ‘Cooling For All’ report?

Toby Peters: For the next 30 years, it is predicted that nineteen cooling appliances will be installed every second; however, even with this massive growth of the cooling sector, much of the world will still be without access to cooling in a warming world, suffering the consequences: poverty, malnutrition, spoiled medicines, and unsafe living and working environments.

If we are to deliver on the societal, health and economic targets of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), cooling for all will be essential. But what would it mean for our renewable energy systems and overall climate change mitigation targets?

As a first step towards answering this question, we need to better understand the size of the problem. In “A Cool World – Defining the Energy Conundrum of Cooling for All,” we set out to provide, for the first time, an initial indication of the scale of cooling for all in a warming world - a scenario that would see ubiquitous penetration of cooling from cold chains to AC units.

The conclusion is that we will not solve both the challenge of ensuring equitable access to cooling for all humans and mitigate its future energy and environmental impacts without step-change intervention.

// shecco: What role do natural refrigerants and the HFC phase down under the Kigali Amendment play in achieving the goals of the report?

Toby Peters: The Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol is crucial to reducing the HVAC&R sector’s environmental footprint. But meeting the Kigali targets could be very challenging if we strive to deliver access to cooling for all who need it and meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals given the significant uplift in cooling equipment deployed. If we are to plan for a cooling for all goal, the analysis suggests that further accelerating the uptake of low-GWP and natural refrigerants would be necessary in order to meet the Kigali objectives.

// shecco: Is the use of natural refrigerants considered one of the energy-saving strategies as well as a way to reduce direct GHG emissions?

Toby Peters: We should absolutely ensure lowest GWP and highest energy efficiency from current technology choices. But as we migrate from fossil fuels to renewables, we require whole- system approaches to energy if we are to manage demand sustainably. This must include new, efficient strategies for cooling that cost- effectively meet demand, manage the thermal peaks so as to smooth intermittent renewable generation, as well as provide zero-emission temperature-controlled transport. Strategies should recognize the portfolio of available resources such as free and waste cold and heat; incorporate data connectivity and energy management; and consider the role of energy storage, as well as resource- pooling protocols.

// shecco: The report says that 14 billion appliances will be needed to provide cooling for all by 2050. Does this include only domestic cooling loads, or all cooling loads – domestic, commercial, industrial, and transport?

Toby Peters: All cooling demand

Professor Toby Peters, University of Birmingham, U.K.

// shecco: How will cooling for all be financed?

Toby Peters: Access to financing remains a challenge for the adoption of sustainable cold-chain technology. There is no single silver bullet for the funding given that cooling has many different applications. Cooling for all will need a portfolio of novel financing solutions, both commercial and smart subsidies. These measures may include tax relief for cooperative solutions by farmer-producer organizations or reallocation of agricultural subsidies towards cold chains.

Within this, servitization of cooling – “cooling as a service” and “pay as you use” – must become increasingly important, especially, for example, to bring access to cooling and cold chain to small and marginal farmers or to drive energy efficiency into space cooling. 

Also key is bringing cooling into the green financing agenda to ensure that we “think thermally,” not just electrically, as we finance renewables.

Other government policies, tailored for each market, might include:

-Undertaking a national cooling needs assessment to meet socio-economic goals and set total TEWI (total equivalent warming impact) and energy allowances to meet Paris Climate targets.

-Incentivizing technology efficiency and cooling-demand reduction (including shared reward).

-Using urban design to create “cool” spaces and mitigate cooling demand.

-Developing and enforcing building energy codes to mitigate cooling demand 

// shecco: How much energy savings in cooling will be needed by 2050 to offset the increase in cooling expected?

Toby Peters: As an indication of the impact of widespread global access to cooling – cooling for all – we developed a hypothetical scenario whereby refrigeration equipment penetrations globally converge by 2050 with those experienced in the developed world today (with the U.S as the proxy); also in the model air conditioning is made available to all populations experiencing more than 2,000 cooling degree days per year. Without action beyond current technology progress and equipment efficiency gains, cooling related energy consumption could result in 19,600 TWh of energy consumption per year.

Using the International Energy Agency (IEA) dataset from the Energy Technology Perspectives 2017 publication (ETP2017), one can extract that this will more than triple the 6,300 TWh in IEA’s implied “energy budget” for all cooling in its 2°C Scenario.

Although ultimately the actual detail of the numbers in a cooling for all scenario (penetration levels, energy consumption, solution choices, etc.) might have some statistical dispersion, given the size of the gap between current demand projections and those including cooling for all, the conclusions are highly likely to be correct.

// shecco: Will the growth in renewables keep up with the growing demand for cooling?

Toby Peters: The year 2017 set a record for global deployment of solar renewable at 94 GW of capacity added. In the same year the full-load power draw from all room air conditioners sold was 133 GW; of these approximately 20% were replacement units, with the remainder (about 106 GW) being incremental peak load demand added to the global grid.

Then 2018 was again a record year for global deployment of solar renewable at 104 GW of capacity added, while global room air-conditioner sales grew by about 9% year on year. The message is clear: the growth in solar renewables is not keeping up with the growth in demand from just the room air conditioners being sold each year.

Without step - change intervention, “greening” the volume of electricity required for cooling for all by 2050 could consume more than 68% of the projected total renewables capacity under the IEA 2°C Scenario, and more than 100% of the IEA Reference Technology Scenario’s projected renewables capacity by 2050.

In order to achieve sustainable cooling that is affordable, financially sustainable and accessible to all who need it, a new needs- driven, integrated system-level approach is required that incorporates 'thinking thermally' into energy strategies." — Professor Toby Peters, University of Birmingham

// shecco: What are the most important strategies for achieving energy reduction in cooling?

Toby Peters: How growing demand for cooling is managed will have enormous implications for our society, economy, energy demands and climate change. In order to achieve sustainable cooling that is affordable, financially sustainable and accessible to all who need it, a new needs- driven, integrated system-level approach is required that incorporates “thinking thermally” into energy strategies. It includes mitigating demand; understanding the size and location of the thermal, waste, natural and wrong-time energy resources; understanding novel energy vectors, thermal stores, clean- cooling technologies and new business models; and integrating these resources optimally with various cooling loads. Key actions have been identified to achieve this, although each country/community would select interventions based on an understanding of its own needs.

// shecco: How can we collaborate – industry, governments, academia and development institutions among others – to rapidly deploy these solutions?

Toby Peters: The question is “What is the service we require, and how can we provide it in the least damaging way?” rather than “How much electricity do I need to generate?”

Meeting the challenge needs integrated thinking applied not solely in the technological domain but across whole systems that include technology, social, economic, governance, policy, finance, business, energy, education and training.

Only through adopting such an approach will radical new fit-for-market interventions be developed, optimally integrated and deployed in a commercially viable and technologically practical way.

The change required can only come about by breaking down sector-silo thinking and bringing the world’s experts from across all relevant sectors together to deliver integrated systems thinking implemented at politically relevant scales that can ensure successful adoption and delivery of accelerated solutions. This can then drive government and industry cooperation, align policy and finance, shape academic research agendas, and accelerate the transition of innovation to market and widespread adoption at scale.

// shecco: How can the demand for cooling be reduced to make it more manageable?

Toby Peters: We have developed a merit order of intervention. This has to start with demand reduction. To deliver the required energy-demand reduction, interventions will need to include: influencing consumer behavior, urban planning and building design, and such interventions as cool roofs or doors on chillers as well as personal or product cooling vs. space cooling.

We also want to see how we can aggregate demand for matching with available sustainable energy supplies; much greater use of district or community-based cooling to harness free cooling (such as bodies of water), waste cooling and/or waste heat; and more radical technology and thermal energy storage innovations.

// shecco: What advances in installation, maintenance and training will be required to support the expansion in cooling?

Toby Peters: The efficiency and efficacy of cooling systems is dependent on the knowledge and skills of those installing, maintaining and operating cooling equipment. Poorly maintained equipment tends to work less effectively, leak more refrigerant and use more energy. Utilizing badly maintained systems at large scale can increase direct and indirect emissions across the sector by 10-30%. Therefore knowledge and skills development is essential to ensure the best installation and use of cooling equipment, both in terms of existing stock and as demand for cooling grows.

This clearly represents a major knowledge and skills development challenge, but could also provide significant employment opportunities. Regulation and oversight will be required to ensure that equipment is installed and maintained by adequately trained professionals, and that the effect this has on total operating cost of equipment is minimized, in order to ensure compliance without compromising access.

// shecco: Why is meeting the cooling for all challenge so important to solving the climate change problem? 

Toby Peters: Access to cooling is not a luxury; it is an issue of equity that requires fast action to protect the most vulnerable. Currently more than 1.1 billion people suffer the consequences of lack of access to cooling. Cooling delivers fresh food, safe medicines, protection from heat, and thermal comfort for a growing number of people who will live in a warming world. In more and more countries, air conditioning and refrigeration will be vital for economic productivity. 

How the world meets this challenge and provides cooling services to a growing middle class and to the vulnerable poor in the coming decades will have important ramifications for our climate. Without innovations and targeted interventions the energy demand for cooling could increase more than five times by 2050; fast growing direct and indirect GHG emissions associated with cooling equipment can easily outpace all our attempts to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and halt global warming.

By Michael Garry

Aug 09, 2019, 08:56

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