The War on Air Conditioning Heats Up | Foundation for Economic Education
The war on air conditioning: Which side are you on?
The cultural debate about if air conditioning is good or evil is heating up.
The war on air conditioning: Which side are you on? | Keeping Energy Affordable
“Why is America so over air-conditioned?” asks the New York Times in last weekend’s Sunday Review. The article’s premise will be familiar to certain members of the paper’s demographic, for whom it’s self-evident that window units are not so much a source of comfort as a sign of gross indulgence. These people love to hate AC, and they drive me nuts.
How air conditioning is actually making us hotter
This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
We’re just reaching the hottest part of the summer, but already much ink has been spilled over air conditioning. Recent New York Times articles wondered why the United States is so “over air-conditioned,” with its frigid office buildings andarchaic cooling calculations that make work unbearable for many women, not to mention terrible for the environment. Yet in a series of essays for Slate, writer David Engber has argued that the case against AC is overhyped; Americans still spend more energy heating their houses than cooling them.
But elsewhere in the world — in crowded countries where heating isn’t necessary — air conditioning markets are just warming up. In late April, the Indian subsidiary of the Japanese air conditioning manufacturer Daikin Industries announced plans to open its second plant in the subcontinent, double production, and expand its existing stock of 200 showrooms to 350 by the end of 2015. India isn’t the only place where AC is all the rage. As climate change nudges global temperatures upward, incomes are also rising, meaning millions more people can afford to beat the heat. Sales of home and commercial air conditioners have doubled in China over the past five years, with 64 million units sold in 2013 alone.
The advent of AC in those countries will do more than simply make companies like Daikin rich. Here in the U.S., air conditioning has influenced where people settle. Over the past 80 years, hordes of Americans migrated south and west to cities like Miami and Phoenix, where AC made broiling conditions bearable; in turn, the growth of these Sun Belt communities ratcheted up the demand for cooling. These days, almost 90 percent of American households have air conditioning. We spend $11 billion on cooling each year and release roughly 100 million tons of carbon dioxide in the process — the same as 19 million cars.
By contrast, in Mexico, only 13 percent of households have AC. But in a recent study, Lucas Davis, an associate professor at the University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, predicts that the country’s rising per capita income will mean more than two-thirds of Mexican homes will have it by 2100 — creating annual emissions equivalent to 4.4 million new cars. Across the globe, Davis predicts, demand for cooling will put more strain on electrical grids, causing shortages and price spikes along with more pollution.
In the United States, power companies fire up “peaker plants” to create extra electricity on hot summer days. And these plants are often dirtier than the usual facilities, leading to a vicious cycle: More emissions means more global warming, which means more appetite for cooling. One 2009 study predicted that by 2100, heating and cooling will account for 12 percent of global carbon emissions — but because of climate change, demand for heating will have shrunk by 34 percent, while demand for cooling will have grown by 72 percent. More energy-efficient equipment can mitigate some of that, but experts estimate these gains will be more than offset by the overall increase in air conditioning.
Still, it’s unrealistic — and unfair — to demand that the world’s rising economies forsake a luxury the more affluent have enjoyed for decades. Not to mention that during heatwaves, lack of air conditioning can kill, with the greatest danger among the elderly, poor, and people of color: A 2013 UC-Berkeley study found that in the United States, Hispanics were 21 percent more likely and African Americans 52 percent more likely than their white counterparts to live in heat islands — urban neighborhoods where, because of abundant concrete and few trees, temperatures soar.
So what could help keep us cool without further heating the globe? Better design, for starters: For thousands of years, the world’s tropical and desert areas have used passive cooling systems — simple architectural tweaks that minimize a structure’s exposure to heat. Light-colored houses with reflective roofs were the mainstay of South Florida architecture before centralized cooling came along, and these “cool roofs” are back in style: Guidelines for new construction in California, Florida, and Georgia urge commercial buildings to adopt this feature, which studies show can decrease air conditioning bills by 20 percent on average. Sacramento, Calif.,requires that planted foliage shade at least 50 percent of any new parking lot, since surfaces protected by a tree’s canopy transmit less heat. The Japanese cities of Tokyo and Osaka, meanwhile, are testing water-retentive pavements, which absorb and then evaporate moisture to cool the streets.
Design tricks can help at home too. One easy way to reduce your AC use — and your electric bill — is to make sure your house is well insulated and sealed, as seepage accounts for about 30 percent of your cooling system’s energy consumption. One energy company calculated that if you set your thermostat to 78 degrees instead of 72, you’ll save around $100 a summer. Ceiling fans cost as little as 30 cents a month when used eight hours a day, while swamp coolers — which cool the air by drawing it over water — are far more energy efficient in dry climates than traditional air conditioners. And with these tools, you can keep your neighbors more comfortable, as well. Researchers from Arizona State Universityrevealed in a 2014 study that waste heat from air conditioning increased the outside temperature of some areas of Phoenix by nearly 2 degrees F, leading to — you guessed it — yet more demand for AC. Scientists observed a similar effectin Tokyo. How’s that for a burn?
In sweaty Europe, air conditioning is no way to cope with the heat | McClatchy DC
Europe to America: Your love of air-conditioning is stupid - The Washington Post
Climate change means we can't keep living in glass houses
August 3, 2015 by David Coley, The Conversation
Las Vegas’s glass boxes couldn’t exist without air conditioning. Credit: Bert Kauffman, CC BY
How do we go about designing buildings today for tomorrow's weather? As the world warms and extreme weather becomes more common, sustainable architecture is likely to mean one major casualty: glass.
For decades glass has been everywhere, even in so-called "modern" or "sustainable" architecture such as London's Gherkin. However in energy terms glass is extremely inefficient – it does little but leak heat on cold winter nights and turn buildings into greenhouses on summer days.
For example, the U-value (a measure of how much heat is lost through a given thickness) of triple glazing is around 1.0. However a simple cavity brick wall with a little bit of insulation in it is 0.35 – that is, three times lower – whereas well-insulated wall will have a U-value of just 0.1. So each metre square of glass, even if it is triple glazed, loses ten times as much heat as a wall.
While the climate is changing, so too is the weather. Climate is expressed in terms of long-term averages, whereas the weather is an expression of short-term events – and the weather is predicted to change by much more than our climate. This creates challenges. A 0.5℃ increase in monthly temperature can made a difference to farmers, or the energy used by an air-conditioning system, but a peak temperature of 38℃ or a vicious cold snap can be far more serious. Buildings are designed to handle extremes, not just averages.
Architects and building engineers around the world are now having to struggle with this issue, especially since buildings last so long. At Bath we have recently been awarded a grant to look at long-term weather forecasting and how building design will have to change. After all, you can't move buildings to a better climate.
One obvious possibility, for UK designers at least, is that they pick a place where the weather currently is similar to what the Met Office suggests the UK will have in 2100, and simply put up buildings like the ones they have there.
The problem is this ignores the low-carbon agenda. Many hot countries have spent the past 30 years designing buildings similar to those found in more temperate countries, while leaving enough space for monster air-conditioning systems. The air-conditioned skyscrapers in Las Vegas and Dubai, for instance, look just like buildings you might see in London or Boston, despite being built in the middle of a desert.
As an experiment, type "Dubai Buildings" into Google images and take a look at what has been built and, more worryingly, artist's impressions of what is on the drawing board. You can even see this inefficiency in cultures that one might expect more of, for example the famous energy-guzzling glass towers of Vancouver.
Buildings will have to be simplified. Heating, lighting, energy supply, air con, escalators, IT networks and so on – all these "building services" will have to be stripped right back. Those services which do remain must use almost no energy – and possibly generate the energy they require on site.
Cutting back on glass would be an easy win. Windows need to be sized, not glorified, and sized for a purpose: the view, or to provide natural light or air. Windows also need to be shaded. Many would argue that we need to re-invent the window, or the building. We need to build buildings with windows, rather than buildings that are one big window.
Maybe we should look to the Mediterranean. People have mainly lived in countries such as Greece, for example, without air-conditioning – and it is true that such heavyweight, thick-walled buildings with small openings are capable of moderating external conditions very well.
However they don't offer the climate control we are used to, especially if you pack them with people and computers. The people of the Mediterranean also had generations to adapt themselves and their working arrangements to fit with the climate. We don't have this luxury: the weather is changing too fast.
We have yet to invent architecture ready for whatever happens to the climate, but it is clear that we need to take lessons from the past – and from other cultures. We can't simply air-condition our way through global warming.
Explore further: Researchers develop new reversible, green window technology
Climate change means we can't keep living in glass houses