By Daniel Nunez Gonzalez
One of the cases in the course involved Zhang Yue’s Broad Group and the emporium he built by first developing a non-electric chiller unit in China. The case reminded me of the role of air conditioning in recent demographic and urban trends, and in the consumption of energy and resources. Lee Kuan Yew, former PM of Singapore, called air conditioning the “greatest invention of this century” . The generalization of affordable systems in the 1970s was a major factor in the growth of the Sun Belt in the United States.
South Bridge Road, Singapore. Pre and post-air conditioned construction in the tropical city-state. Credit: Flickr.com
Air conditioning’s popularization has led to perverse effects. For decades, cheap energy made customers and builders worriless about energy savings. Today, buildings account for 39% of the CO2 emissions in the United States; higher than transportation at 26% . Air conditioning has a major effect in temperature in large cities, contributing to the “heat island effect”; in a warm day in Paris, the effect of chiller systems alone can increase the average temperature by up to 2 degrees Celsius . Black-outs due to excessive electrical demand are now commonly related to heat waves, when the demand for air conditioning peaks.
Global demand is expected to explode. Only two of the warmest 30 largest metropolitan areas in the world are in developed countries. 2% of Indian households owned one air conditioning unit in 2007, compared to 87% of the US . Popularization of air conditioning in the developing world will only contribute to more energy consumption and, ultimately, to climate change.
Credit: Sivak, M. “Potential energy demand for cooling in the 50 largest metropolitan areas of the world: Implications for developing countries”, The University of Michigan, Transportation Research Institute, August 24, 2008.
What can be done to avoid those developing countries consuming indiscriminate resources, without falling into the cliché of Western nations blaming them about the increase in pollution? Continue reading