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Climate Change and Air Conditioning

Established by the United Nations (U.N.) and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) studies and assesses the work of climate-change scientists from around the world, including a significant number of U.S. researchers. Recently, the IPCC released a report titled “Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.” The statistics behind the report’s creation are impressive: It was produced by more than 300 authors and review editors representing 70 countries and independently reviewed by 1,729 experts from 84 countries.

Regardless of your opinion on climate change and the U.N., some of the report’s findings are particularly relevant to our industry. For example, the growing global middle class and the warming trend in climate are, according to the report, going to contribute to a significant increase in the need for air conditioning. During summer, this is projected to result in a 3,000-percent increase in energy demand for residential air conditioning globally. That translates to approximately 4,000 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2050, up from nearly 300 TWh in 2000. And by 2100, that number is expected to reach 10,000 TWh. Compare that to the 4,127 TWh of electric energy used in the United States in 2012, and note that 75 percent of the increase will come from that growing middle class in emerging markets.

Although most of the report is gloom and doom—unless, of course, you are an air-conditioner manufacturer—it also concludes that developed countries in colder climates will have a decrease in heating demand as winters become warmer (though try telling that to my former neighbors in Michigan, who just suffered through a horrible winter). The report also pointed out that increased rainfall in most parts of the world will boost hydroelectric power production, and the higher ambient temperatures will increase the efficiency of power-transmission lines. However, the bottom line, according to the report, is that the negative impact of climate change on the global energy supply far outweighs the benefits.

For those manufacturers focused on producing more-efficient air conditioning, such as the emerging technologies I wrote about in my post “Niche Products in the HVAC Industry,” this is another incentive for them to continue their efforts.

To read the report, go to


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