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The air conditioning systems that keep houses, stores and offices cool are gaining popularity in an increasingly hot world.
But what consequences will the extra electricity they require have? Will it exacerbate climate change or can this impact be prevented with more efficient technologies?
The planet is getting warmer, as evidenced by the fact that 16 of the 17 hottest years recorded occurred since 2001 , according to climatologists.
It is not surprising then that the demand for air conditioning equipment has skyrocketed.
The energy they require will triple by 2050, according to estimates from the International Energy Agency.
This means that by 2050, the world’s air conditioning systems will use the current electricity generating capacity of the United States, the European Union and Japan combined.
Therefore, scientists and technology companies are constantly looking for more efficient air conditioning systems.
Researchers from Stanford University , in the United States, developed a team that uses new generation materials and applies a field of study called “nanophotonics”.
The Stanford system uses an ultra-thin and highly reflective material that radiates heat still exposed to sunlight.
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The infrared thermal energy is radiated at a wavelength that escapes into spacethrough the atmosphere, instead of being absorbed by it.
The researchers demonstrated in trials that water can be cooled by placing a sheet of material under the pipes that carry the liquid.
That water with a temperature a few degrees lower than that of the environment could then be used to cool the interior of a building.
And all that can be achieved without electricity.
The technology is so promising that Stanford scientists created a startup or startupcompany, SkyCool Systems , to market the product.
“It is reasonable to expect that the air conditioning equipment of the future will double the efficiency of the current ones,” said Danny Parker , from the University of Florida’s solar research center.
Parker and his colleagues worked for years to find more efficient air conditioning and heating systems.
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In 2016, for example, they found that a device cooled by evaporation of water fixed to a conventional air conditioning system can increase the cooling of the air.
The scientists calculated that these modified systems could increase the efficiency of the equipment used in the European climate between 30% and 50%.
For its part, the technological giant Samsung created a system that releases cooled air in a room without the need for fans.
Samsung says that its system is 32% more efficient than conventional ones.
“The solution is already in the market”
Reasonably efficient equipment already exists on the market, including models that use devices called inverters or inverters.
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These devices adjust the intensity of the cooling using sensors to measure the ambient temperature.
However, many people in the developing world may not be willing to spend more on systems with investors.
But if they did, that would make a big difference in electricity consumption, said Brian Motherway of the International Energy Agency.
“The solution is already in the market,” said Motherway.
” The important thing is to give incentives to people to buy the most efficient equipment.”
The challenge of China
That can be a big problem in China, says Iain Staffell , an energy expert at Imperial College in London.
“People there want the cheapest possible system and do not worry about the cost of electricity because in China electricity is very cheap ,” Staffell said.
For the expert, simply using existing systems could save a lot of energy.
For example, one application of the company Tado , AC Smart Control, turn off the automatic air conditioning equipment when a person leaves the room.
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And the same app modifies the cooling level according to the weather reports.
Tado says that a better use of existing systems could reduce electricity consumption by 40%.
The higher the income, the more teams
Of course, the increase in the demand for air conditioning equipment would not have the same environmental impact if the electricity consumed were renewable, something unlikely today despite advances in green technologies.
“We noticed that the demand for air conditioning equipment had skyrocketed,” said Motherway.
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And this was not only due to the increase in temperature, but the average income in the countries that will suffer the most the impact of global warming, he added.
It is expected that half of the extra demand for air conditioning systems in the future will be registered in China, India and Indonesia in the next 30 years.
But the effects of this increase in demand are already felt.
A generating company in India recently said that the increase in electricity demand in the northeast of the country is due to “the widespread use of air conditioning systems.”
While there was not much growth in the demand for these equipment in China in 2015 and 2016, last year there was an increase of 45% due to a very hot summer , according to Dinesh Kithany, consultant IHS Markit.
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IHS Markit estimates that in 2016 there were about 130 million air conditioning systems in use worldwide. The figure was 160 million just one year later .
The most efficient systems and the change to renewable energies will help mitigate the increase in the demand for air conditioning equipment.
But experts in the energy sector such as Staffel remind that in a warmer world there will be less demand for heating systems.
And this reduction could help offset the growing demand for air conditioning.