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Ambassador report

[Ambassador report] Efficient cooling, heat waves, and the "cold crunch" [Free Report]

by Theodore Bechlivanis | 11-10-2020 08:00 Comments 5 Comments recommendations 0 recommendations



Greece, July 1987. An intense heat wave was raging over the Mediterranean country, keeping the thermometer at 44 degrees Celsius in the day and over 30 degrees at night. In a time when AC units hadn’t been popularized in Greece, the heat was insufferable — and for some, it turned out to be lethal. The midsummer heat wave marked a death toll of 1300 before relenting on July 29th, a week later after it had started. Most of the casualties were among the elderly and had been rushed to the ER over cardiovascular or pulmonary episodes. Morbidly enough, traffic was so high at state morgues that many of the bodies had to be preserved in train freezers.


Albeit a dark afterword to the vibrant culture of the 80s, this incident made the importance of proper air conditioning alarmingly clear. Today, there’s nary a Greek household without at least one AC unit. By modern standards, this makes sense for countries with warmer climates; but as global warming becomes more pronounced, even people in traditionally cooler parts of the world find themselves sweltering in the summer. Countries like the UK are still ill-equipped to manage high temperatures, although this runs deeper than the lack of air conditioning: studies list issues like the absence of outdoor seating and the isolation of the elderly as important factors in determining a state’s heat wave preparedness. 


Air conditioning is  a given for a sizable chunk of the population, and using it comes with a series of well-grounded concerns. How many AC units are in use as we speak? What’s our net energy consumption, and how educated are our choices in AC brands? In a world where the ethics behind our consumer choices become increasingly distinct, answering these questions is a crucial part of understanding the energy efficiency crisis we’re faced with. 


In an effort to answer these questions, the International Energy Agency published a report on air conditioning and the consumer trends surrounding it. Ambitiously dubbed “The Future of Cooling”, it stresses that efficient air conditioning represents a major challenge on both a residential and a manufacturing scale. Today,  AC units and fans amount for about 20% of electrical usage in modern buildings. The IEA predicts that by 2050, ⅔ of households worldwide will have access to an air conditioner; but if steps to ensure energy efficient installations aren’t taken, energy demand will triple, leading to what the Agency describes as a “cold crunch”. 


For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the necessary technology will be available by then, and customers will have a variety of environmentally friendly air conditioners to choose from. Unfortunately, present-day consumers are already setting a poor precedent by selecting the least energy efficient items in stock. In its communiqué, the IEA disparages at “the average efficiency of air conditioners sold today, [which] is less than half of what is typically available on the shelves”. What this means is that the average consumer downplays energy efficiency as a deciding factor in their choice of AC. Of course, that judgment isn’t entirely fair: as air conditioners become more prominent in emerging economies, it’s understandable that shelf prices can weigh much more heavily than sustainability.


Moving on from air conditioners, what other options do we have for cooling? Architecture offers a number of fascinating solutions, including nature-inspired, self-cooling buildings. These biomimetic constructions take inspiration from termites, mice, and other members of the animal kingdom that regulate the temperature of their nests by manipulating their geometry. Self-cooling buildings take advantage of the climate conditions around them to efficiently conduct or preserve heat at virtually no expense beyond construction costs. Regrettably, many of these concepts stumble upon a fatal, if predictable, flaw: that is, their reliance on the building’s original design. It’s often difficult to modify a building that was completed 10 or 20 years ago. Many “smart” self-cooling designs depend on curves and slopes to conduct heat efficiently, something rarely found in mainstream architecture. 


Unless we find a way to integrate self-cooling features into pre-existing buildings — or another emerging technology provides us with a solution — it’s difficult to imagine a world without air conditioners as we currently know them. However, this opens up a fascinating discussion on sustainability and realistic expectations. This alternative cooling quandary finds precedent in another famous ecological fantasy, that is, the complete or partial replacement of fossil fuels with Renewable Energy Sources. While it’s true that there are ongoing attempts to phase out unviable energy resources, future projections on energy consumption indicate that human societies will still be largely dependent on fossil fuels over the next decades. Take this chart from Exxon Mobil, for example:


Exxon Mobil: Outlook for Energy, 2018


What we see here is a steady, yet decisive increase in the use of oil and natural gas, accompanied by a relatively prolific increase in the use of RES like wind, geothermal, and solar energy. That being said, these projections can be taken with a grain of salt: Exxon Mobil is a fossil fuel giant, and there are a myriad ways in which statistics and mathematical models can be made subjective. The important takeaway from this discussion is that the course for sustainability is not yet set. Technological and ecological breakthroughs can be exaggerated or diluted; what’s important is to realize that the collective stance we take towards this energy crisis can deeply influence the results we get. Be it activists advocating for more prudent energy policies or the scientific community demanding funding for research and development, building a sustainable future will always be a function of profit, scientific achievement, and social progress. 


5 Comments

SJ Mentor

  • SJ Mentor says :
    Hello Theodore!
    It's your SJ mentor.

    Thank you for sharing your fabulous report.
    As you stated, Air conditioning system require a huge amount of Energy.
    According to the predicted situation called 'cold crunch' we must resolve the problem which can be happen.
    We should apply self-cooling technique when constructing buildings.
    Also, integrative clean energy management system must be employed to control total energy source such as solar energy generation, electricity comes from a thermoelectric power plant, etc.
    I suggest you writing a further report about introducing buildings applied eco-friendly technology.
    Persistent developments for sustainable system are truly urgent.
    Keep up your hard work!

    Sincerley,
    SJ mentor.
    Posted 14-10-2020 05:39

Mun WooJooMentor

  • Mun WooJooMentor says :
    Hello Theodore,
    this is your mentor WooJoo.

    Thank you for sharing such an informative report.
    Due to increasing temperature, AC has become an essential equipment in our lives.
    I can't imagine of how the summer would be like if we can't use them.
    But it is true that using it consumes a lot of energy.
    Bioenergy industries are rising, but still we've got a long way to replace all the fuel energy into bio ones.
    I'm curious about what self-cooling building would look like,
    and it would be nice if you show us current examples if there are any.
    We have to fight for sustainability.

    Keep writing!

    Regards,
    WooJoo
    Posted 13-10-2020 17:48

Puja Khadka

  • Puja Khadka says :
    Hello Theodore,
    I hope you are all good.
    Firstly thank you for sharing such an informative report.
    Keep sharing more and more.
    With Regards,
    Puja khadka
    Posted 11-10-2020 17:17

Shobha Pokhrel

  • Shobha Pokhrel says :
    Thank you so much for this report

    Posted 11-10-2020 13:04

Asmita Gaire

  • Asmita Gaire says :
    Greetings Theodore
    I hope you are doing well
    Very detailed and worth reading report
    Thank you so much for this report
    Keep writing
    Green cheers
    Regards
    Asmita Gaire
    Posted 11-10-2020 11:20

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