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Any colour, as long as it’s not black

Andrew Bailey reflects on the impact of dark cars on energy use, and stirs up the campaign against vicious air conditioning

Legislators in California have been accused of turning the sunshine state – the epitome of the American dream – into an authoritarian dictatorship.

What have they done to stir the people’s wrath? They have threatened to ban black cars, no less. In the land of the shiny black stretch Humvee, this is serious.

The thinking behind the idea is good. Dark cars absorb a lot more energy than lighter ones, which means they require the air conditioning on full blast much more of the time. This means that up to 15 per cent of the fuel is being diverted from propelling the car to cooling its occupants.

So-called ‘cool paint’ has a coating transparent to visible light but reflects infra-red, so less heat energy is passed to the interior. Research suggests that it can reduce the temperature in parts of the car by as much as 20 deg C and significantly cut the amount of fuel used on sunny days – which is most days in California.

The proposal, however, has caused outrage. From the establishment Washington Post to the fuming blogosphere, the initiative has been condemned as an anti-American intrusion into people’s lives. One well-known radio host told his millions of listeners that they should go out and buy a black car now, as soon they wouldn’t be available.

Against a tidal wave of invective, a lone voice posted the following thoughtful question: “If banning black cars is such a good idea, why do women in some hot countries wear black robes?” A bottle of Pimms to the reader who comes up with the best answer.

Green cooling

Still on the subject of keeping cool on the move, we came across an advertisement for the Monsoon, “the first golf buggy with built-in cooling technology.”

The Californian lawmakers will love this one. The Monsoon has a built-in “MistyMate” water misting system that generates a cooling cloud of fine water particles to envelope the golfer – reducing local air temperatures by as much as 30 degrees, it claims.

The buggy has been tested in the searing heat of Arizona, where playing golf is not so much a leisure activity as an outdoor survival pursuit. With an eye on keeping their marketing options open, the makers have thoughtfully included a built-in raid hood and umbrella dock. That should come in handy if you find yourself one grey afternoon in a Monsoon on the municipal nine-holer in Sheffield.

Vicious air con

The movement against vicious air conditioning is gathering pace. The Guardian last month railed against the trend towards ultra cooled buildings, which leaves many occupants shivering on sunny summer days. “A frozen employee is not a productive employee”, cried the columnist, from a desk sited rather too close to the outlet vent in the paper’s spanking new building in London.

“If we were working somewhere like Egypt, then air-con would probably be a welcome relief. But this is Kings Cross, my arms have goose bumps, I’ve resorted to warming my hands around cups of scorching tea, and there’s a draft from the apparently hi-tech ventilation shaft under the desk that is slowly freezing my left leg.”

In a sign of how serious the issue is becoming, one Elizabeth Andrews is taking her employer, Tate Modern, to court, claiming the air conditioning made it so cold it affected her health. Without commenting on this particular case, it is clear that the sense of grievance among staff in over air conditioned offices is growing and, if taken to court, could have liability implications for contractors and FM companies responsible for building services systems.

For such companies, it would be worth checking the fine print of service and maintenance contracts to see what, if any, provisions relate to the setting and changing of temperatures. This may be particularly relevant to those who operate remote control and monitoring systems on behalf of clients.

It brings to mind the person based in Belgium who reputedly controls the temperature of a national chain of stores across the UK. One hopes that his employer has taken steps to ensure holiday cover.