Skip to content

IEA: Air-Conditioning Will Increase Global Electricity Demand To Chinese Levels

|
The New York Times

The number of air-conditioners worldwide is predicted to soar from 1.6 billion units today to 5.6 billion units by midcentury, according to a report issued Tuesday by the International Energy Agency. If left unchecked, by 2050 air-conditioners would use as much electricity as China does for all activities today.

Air-conditioners on a building in Fuzhou, China. A new report predicts that the number of air-conditioning units worldwide will rise from 1.6 billion today to 5.6 billion by midcentury.CreditVCG via Getty Images

More than crickets and fireflies, more than baseball and cookouts, perhaps nothing signals the arrival of summer in the United States like the soft familiar whir of air-conditioning.

But there is growing concern that as other countries adopt America’s love of air-conditioners, the electricity used to power them will overburden electrical grids and increase planet-warming emissions.

The number of air-conditioners worldwide is predicted to soar from 1.6 billion units today to 5.6 billion units by midcentury, according to a report issued Tuesday by the International Energy Agency. If left unchecked, by 2050 air-conditioners would use as much electricity as China does for all activities today.

Greenhouse gas emissions released by coal and natural gas plants when generating electricity to power those air-conditioners would nearly double, from 1.25 billion tons in 2016 to 2.28 billion tons in 2050, the report says. Those emissions would contribute to global warming, which could further heighten the demand for air-conditioning.

Right now air-conditioning is concentrated in a handful of countries, mainly in the United States and Japan, and increasingly in China.

While 90 percent of American households have air-conditioning, “When we look in fact at the hot countries in the world, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, where about 2.8 billion people live, only about 8 percent of the population owns an air-conditioner,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the energy agency.

As incomes in those countries rise, however, more people are installing air-conditioners in their homes. The energy agency predicts much of the growth in air-conditioning will occur in India, China and Indonesia.

Full story