Climate Change

Heatwave effect: 2.5 billion people to have air conditioners by 2050

Traditionally cooler or naturally conditioned areas in the US and Europe have reported sale and installation of more air conditioners

By Richard Mahapatra
Published: Thursday 01 August 2019
Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Europeans and a vast population of the US are fast welcoming a new fixture in their homes that they, until recently, never considered a necessity: air conditioners (ACs).

The ACs are no more an asset of desire or aspiration, but a need to tide over heatwaves that sweeping these areas with increasing regularity and intensity.

Currently, more than 60 per cent of the US is under the grip of heatwaves. Temperature has broken records in Germany, Belgium and Netherlands. The UK’s meteorology department on July 30 said the country recorded its highest-ever temperature — 38.7 degrees Celsius.

In the first week of July 2019, the Census Bureau of the US released its annual survey called Characteristics of New Housing. Its data on air conditioning individual houses followed the trajectory of the rising heatwave in the country.

In 1974, only 65 per cent of the new housing units had built-in air conditioning and in 2018 it rose to 94 per cent.

What links this data to rising heat waves is the fact that traditionally cooler or naturally conditioned region like the US’ northeast has reported sale and installation of more air conditioners. Air conditioning has been traditionally higher in the southern region of the country.

Last year, Germany reported its second-warmest year since 1881. This climate landmark also spiked air conditioner selling by 15 per cent, said the country’s Trade Association for Air Conditioning. The country sold around 2 lakh AC units.

Germans are used to electric ceiling fans, like Indians, and open their windows frequently, instead of using ACs or chilling.

Energy experts see this new normal as a heating up landscape cutting across continents, precipitating a chain reaction of higher energy consumption and more emission.

It is not only new areas like the Europe and the northeast region of the US that are under the grip of heatwaves, increasing number of developing countries too are falling prey to this climate phenomenon.

These countries use ACs less. But, what’s concerning is that if these countries record high use of ACs, there will be a significant increase in energy consumption.

According to the International Energy Association (IEA), 2.8 billion people reside in “hot countries”. These countries have average daily temperature above 25 degrees C.

“Access to cooling services is becoming a major issue, especially in developing countries where owning an air conditioner is still uncommon,” wrote Chiara Delmastro, analyst and John Dulac, energy technology policy analyst with the IEA.

In developing countries, less than 10 per cent of houses have air conditioners. On the other hand, 90 per cent of houses in countries like Japan and the US have ACs.  But in both the cases use of ACs is expected to increase or is already increasing.

According to the IEA data, up to 2.5 billion people in hot countries are projected to have an air conditioner by 2050. And it still leaves out 1.9 billion people without an AC, even though they would also need it. This estimates that 75 per cent of people living in hot countries would potentially use air conditioners by 2050.

“This means that an additional 720 million people, or equivalently 175 million households, beyond those already expected to purchase one would have access to an air conditioner by 2050. This grows to as much as 1.6 billion people by 2100 – giving access to cooling to the equivalent of the current populations of India and Brazil combined,” wrote Chiara and John.

The IEA’s Sustainable Development Scenario that explores ways to universal electricity access by 2030 read that electricity demand of the 175 million households with an AC by 2050 would be around 105 terawatt-hours (TWh, 45 per cent of it will be consumed by ACs). 

With millions still without access to grid or off-grid access to power, people would also use diesel generators. This, in turn, will lead to not only direct emission but also add on to households’ expenses which could have been used for other necessities. 

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