Air conditioning has the potential to keep people cool as climate change keeps making the planet hotter. At the same time, conventional air conditioning technology uses a lot of energy, meaning it’s contributing to climate change — and will have a bigger effect as more people need air conditioners to stay comfortable or even survive.
Currently, air conditioning is responsible for nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to an analysis by scientists from the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center released in March. Those emissions are expected to get worse as more people install air conditioners, especially in India, China, and Indonesia, according to a joint statement from the NREL and Xerox PARC.
“It’s a good and a bad thing,” Jason Woods, an NREL senior research engineer and co-author of the new study, said in a statement about the research. “It’s good that more people can benefit from improved comfort, but it also means a lot more energy is used, and carbon emissions are increased.”
Conventional air conditioner technology uses a vapor compression cycle to cool the air. In that system, refrigerant is used to do the cooling.