The hot summer evenings have arrived in the UK and the country will be sleepless in the heat. But when Brits get to the air conditioning, they find it’s not there. Just 1 per cent of homes in the UK have fixed heating systems, one of the lowest rates in Europe, and another 3-5 per cent have portable heating systems.
That may change as the summer warms. By 2035, around 20 per cent of London homes will need air conditioning, according to a recent report from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. By 2075, it will be nearly 50 percent.
Lots of new AC units. These use a lot of electricity, more than any other appliance in the house – and have an emissions effect in comparison. In this way, the simple solution to house warming – more cooling – exacerbates the problem.
Currently, even those who want to buy an air conditioner cannot get it, not only because of the heat wave, but also because of the supply chain failure of the circuit boards that control the temperature and air flow. “It was bad last year, but it’s worse this year,” said Garrion Leeds, owner of an air conditioning installation company in Gloucester. “Even if it’s a combination of Brexit, chips, and the lack of ships – it’s a very stormy situation.”
As the UK steps up its greenhouse gas emissions, it reflects a shift that is already underway to warmer climates. In India, Indonesia or Brazil, demand for air is increasing as incomes rise. Owning an air conditioner can be life-changing for those who live in tropical climates. By 2050, two-thirds of the world’s buildings will have air conditioning.
Collectively, this has a significant impact on our energy use. Global air conditioning demand will triple by 2050 — requiring the equivalent of the current energy capacity of the US, EU and Japan. That’s according to the International Energy Agency, which for years has been warning of “severity” as rising demand begins to hit power grids.
ACs and fans account for about 10 percent of the world’s electricity consumption. And it’s a real challenge for power grids because demand spikes on hot days – often threatening blackouts if the grid can’t keep up.
Every new unit sold by the sweat shop also has an emission impact: from the carbon dioxide emitted by the electricity grid (if the electricity is all clean) and the leakage of refrigerants in the units individually. However as the world gets warmer, AC will be needed for human life in the hottest parts of the world, with negative feedback.
Access to greenhouse gases will make climate change worse at the root: the poor produce the least, but they are also the ones who suffer the effects of heating. Now the rich can buy their way out, or even better themselves.
There are solutions to this dilemma, but none of them are perfect. Better designed buildings, with more insulation, help beat the heat. Bars close during the day when the sun is out. And better AC units can make a big difference in the amount of emissions produced.
But as the UK grapples with its heatwave, the rush for gas is a reminder that climate change will change us all. Londoners sweltering in a 36C heatwave is a simple example of a force that is far worse and worse elsewhere: look at the current bushfires burning across Portugal and Spain, or the deadly flood in Sydney. Cutting emissions now will help reduce our need for air conditioning in the future.
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