What cool climate project could be worth 1,500 power plants?

As summer arrives in the Northern Hemisphere, more people around the world are switching on air conditioning. Those AC units are about to get a lot more climate-friendly.

A team that includes China, India, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the United States launched the Advanced Cooling Challenge on June 2 to crank up a new era of air conditioning.

“Access to cooling is at the heart of opportunity, health and prosperity, but the challenge we have before us is how to deliver that cooling sustainably to more people,” said Gabrielle Dreyfus of the U.S. Super-efficient Equipment and Appliance Deployment Initiative.

She spoke in San Francisco, where top energy officials met June 1–2 to find ways to promote clean energy.

A new study predicts massive growth in air conditioning, with 700 million new appliances by 2030. This is cool, especially if you live in a part of Rajasthan, India, where temperatures recently soared to 51 degrees Celsius.

Today’s AC units produce a problematic amount of greenhouse gases. They consume power, which can come from burning fossil fuels, and often use potent greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), as chemical refrigerants.

But members of the Advanced Cooling Challenge are on a roll to promote better AC units. Several companies are already signing up to research, produce and advertise their most efficient, lowest-emission machines. Companies Ingersoll Rand and Honeywell have pledged $1.4 billion in research and development to produce the next generation of sustainable AC.


“A 25 to 30 percent improvement in efficiency, which we certainly think is technologically possible, can have an enormous difference,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz.

If the world can improve the average efficiency of air conditioning units by 30 percent and restrict HFCs, it would offset the construction of about 1,550 utility-scale power plants, researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimate.

Already, some air conditioners available in Korea are 50 percent more efficient than the global average.

Moniz says that once AC-reliant businesses, such as hotels, start buying environmentally friendly AC, the global market will shift, making super-efficient air conditioning accessible to families.