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Report warns of sustainability challenge from global surge in cooling demand

University of Birmingham findings build on recent ‘clean cold’ congress in calling for new planning approaches to tackle anticipated rise in energy consumption from cooling technology over next three decades

An anticipated quadrupling in worldwide demand for cooling appliances by 2050 could lead to a 90 per cent increase in global energy consumption without new political and industry thinking, findings from the University of Birmingham have said.

A new report from the university, which earlier this year hosted a first global summit on ‘clean cold’, has estimated that a changing climate and population increase will require new approaches for cooling to ensure demand is sustainably met. These approaches will not solely be based around technology, but also have to consider how factors such as building design is used to mitigate high temperatures, according to the findings.

Professor Toby Peters, lead author of the ‘A Cool World’ report, said that “living labs” must also be formed to develop new forms of systems that make use of waste cold and heat, thermal energy storage and data in a way that demonstrates viable new approaches to efficient cooling.

Living labs are described as projects that engage with specific communities around testing and demonstrating new approaches to governance, policy and funding of more efficient cooling that will look beyond the idea of purely technological solutions that may not be economically viable.

Professor Peters added, “Current projections do not consider a ‘Cooling for All’ scenario and it will be impossible to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals as well as the Paris climate change targets. If we are to meet either of these, relying on technology efficiency and greening electricity won’t be sufficient.”

“The challenge now is how to start with a system-led approach, better harnessing a portfolio of energy resources and adopting novel technologies. In order to achieve this, we need to start by asking ourselves a new question - no longer ‘how much electricity do we need to generate?’ but rather ‘what is the service we require, and how can we provide it in the least damaging way.”

Curbing energy use required for cooling through high efficiency technologies that are maintained to ensure an ongoing high-level of performance is among some of the report’s key recommendations, along with reducing the need for cooling altogether through better building design.

Successfully realising these aims will require system level thinking concerning the built environment and transport, according to the report. The University of Birmingham is also pressing for a shift from ‘one size fits all’ approaches to planning, by looking at the specific energy needs of different rural and urban communities.

A statement from the university on the report, which was co-authored by Michael Ayres and Etienne Teyssandier of the Flexible Power Systems group, said, “Given the urgency and need to combine engineering and social sciences for an integrated approach that includes the behaviour of individuals, technical solutions, and the business models to make those solutions viable, the authors also urge the creation of an international centre for excellence.”

The findings have argued that the centre should work to support global collaboration on building a new roadmap for sustainable cooling focused on innovation, training and how best to adopt new technologies at scale.

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