The challenge of cooling in a warming world

By Tobias Dussex

Unsplash, Kévin JINER


As the Earth's temperature continues to rise, cooling technologies become increasingly necessary. However, the energy demands of cooling systems pose a significant threat to our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


As the summer months arrive, temperatures are soaring and making it increasingly uncomfortable for people to go about their daily activities. During the summer in Switzerland, an average day can mean temperatures over 30°C, a far cry from the days before 1980, when Lucerne would only record a maximum of 10 such days during the summer. Nowadays, this temperature has become the average, according to Meteoschweiz. But these numbers pale in comparison to other parts of the world, such as Delhi, where temperatures near 50°C have been recorded. Unfortunately, the consequences of such extreme temperatures go beyond mere discomfort.


Proteins, for example, start to degrade at around 41°C, leading to significant health problems. Cooling, therefore, becomes a necessity. However, as Radhika Khosla et al. point out in their 2020 study, cooling is not just important for our health, but also critical for industrial production and the preservation of food and medicine.


The scale of the problem is staggering. Khosla et al. Estimate that two to four billion people require cooling to avoid health risks. In other words, 10 new cooling installations need to be made every second for the next 30 years. Unfortunately, this will lead to significant energy consumption, especially as many countries still rely heavily on fossil fuels. In India, for instance, the energy mix is 57.7% based on fossil fuels. This growing demand for air conditioning is, therefore, coupled with a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.


A problem to solve

So, what can we do to mitigate this rise in greenhouse gas emissions? The most obvious solution is to start cooling with renewable energy. Governments and energy companies can generate clean energy and distribute it to people in need. Another option is to install solar panels on an individual scale. Since cooling is most needed when the sun is shining, the question of energy storage becomes less critical. Moreover, increasing the thermal mass of buildings can significantly reduce total energy use, making the use of renewable energy more achievable.


Unsplash, Caspar Rae


A potential solution

Unfortunately, relying solely on governments and big energy companies to achieve renewable energy goals is not realistic, given the urgency of the problem. Additionally, installation of solar panels and cooling systems requires a high initial investment. Many people cannot afford such an investment, and hence, alternative solutions are required. One such solution is the "Cooling as a Service" (CaaS) business model, which Khosla et al. introduce in their paper. Under this model, the air conditioning units and solar panels remain in the ownership of companies, and customers rent them. By doing so, the initial burden of investment is no longer an issue, and more people can gain access to cooling systems.


Ultimately, we need to search and finance additional solutions to ensure cooler environments without warming the planet. With the help of renewable energy sources and innovative business models such as CaaS, we can hope to achieve this goal. It is essential that we act quickly to make sure that people have access to cooling, and we do so in a way that does not exacerbate the problem of climate change.


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