Why India and Richard Branson Are Looking to Revolutionize Air Conditioners

The ironic thing about air conditioning is that while it cools people’s homes and businesses down it also very much contributes to the warming of the planet. Air conditioners suck up a lot of power and also contain refrigerants that emit greenhouse gasses. It’s estimated that in 2016 around 1.25 billion tons of carbon was spewed into the air as a result of this invention. 
According to this article by the Washington Post, the United Nation’s Climate Summit has determined that as more and more people around the world use air conditioners the situation is just going to get worse. This is especially true as the world becomes increasingly urbanized. In cities, the buildings are dense and combined with roads, traffic, and industrial activities the temperatures are a lot higher than in the suburbs or rural areas. This leads to more demand for air conditioning which only exacerbates the problem. 

There are more energy-efficient ways to cool a building such as swamp coolers. These devices use fans combined with spraying water. They don’t use refrigerants and they use a lot less energy than conventional air conditioners. The best areas to use swamp coolers include climates that are dry and arid with little to no humidity. 

There are parts of the world where there isn’t a whole lot of demand for air conditioning. The Pacific Northwest is one such area where many residents don’t even own air conditioners. In a place like yelm wa air conditioning isn’t used by too many homeowners, for example, although there are companies that install and service these units. They are becoming increasingly used, though, as that part of the country has been warming up considerably in recent years. 

Some entrepreneurs are looking to reduce the impact of air conditioning on the planet. One such entrepreneur is Richard Branson who created a $3 million initiative to come up with a new, more Earth-friendly form of air conditioning, as detailed in this news piece. This is called the Global Cooling Prize and is designed to remove air conditioning from the global climate change equation. He is funding and promoting this initiative along with the government of India. The goal is a complete rethink of how people cool their homes and replace the approximately 1.2 billion air conditioning units in use in the world today. 

This article states that it has been estimated that another 3.3 billion air conditioning units are expected to be in use by the year 2050. So far very little is being done to come up with new technologies to make these operate much more efficiently. The heating and cooling industry has instead focused on bringing down the upfront costs of these units rather than their operating costs. This contest is looking to have an entry that will reduce the climate impact of air conditioning five times over. When running at full capacity the winning entry will not use more than 700 W and will use less than 3.7 gallons of water for each day it is in use.