A team of EU-funded researchers has analysed the effects of climate change on air conditioning (AC) use and its inevitable impact on electricity consumption.
Another summer, another heatwave, with daytime temperatures over 35 °C more frequently and on more days in a row. Does that sound familiar? You desperately turn the AC on without a second thought if you can afford to own and use one. You’re not alone. The use of energy for cooling purposes is growing rapidly. The International Energy Agency (IEA) notes in a report that “the use of air conditioners and electric fans already accounts for about a fifth of the total electricity in buildings around the world – or 10% of all global electricity consumption.” But how does the use of this appliance affect your electricity bill? What are the potential implications of climate-induced AC adoption on energy poverty?
These are the main questions addressed in a study supported by the EU-funded ENERGYA project. “Households with AC on average spend 35%–42% more on electricity than those that do not own AC. … Our work also shows that air conditioning is the main mechanism that increases households’ electricity use and expenditures.” Their findings were published in a recent article in the journal ‘Economic Modelling’.
The researchers state: “In Europe and other developed countries, the concept of energy poverty is mostly linked to the issue of affordability. Even in the developed world, a significant fraction of [the] population is not able to pay for energy services adequately. If climate change makes indoor cooling an essential good for the health and safety of a growing number of people, sustainable solutions will urgently be needed.”In a news item, Enrica De Cian from ENERGYA project host Ca’ Foscari University of Venice explains the issue of energy poverty: “The concept of energy poverty is usually related to ensuring adequate heating during the coldest months. Our data, however, indicate that we should widen the concept to include the increasing role of cooling during the summer months.”
In its report, the IEA predicts that the use of ACs will rise significantly over the next three decades, becoming a major driver of global electricity demand. “By 2050, around 2/3 of the world’s households could have an air conditioner.” Similarly, in the news item, De Cian notes: “Penetration of air conditioning in households is expected to continue to increase sharply, because of climate change and thanks to increasing standards of living, reaching 21% in Spain and 35% in France in 20 years from now.”
In the ‘Economic Modelling’ article, the researchers conclude: “Our results suggest that climate change, by increasing the number of CDDs [cooling degree days], could lead to a wider adoption of air conditioning, and therefore could lead households to spend a larger share of their income for electricity.” On the other hand, the more the demand for cooling rises, the more people reach for the AC thermostat, and the more they impact climate change. For this reason, the study emphasises that policies “should thus prioritize increasing the supply of electricity from renewable sources, incentivising both supply and demand of more efficient appliances, and improving the energy performance of buildings.”
Scheduled to end in February 2023, the ENERGYA (ENERGY use for Adaptation) project focuses on examining and improving how energy and energy services can be used by households and industries to adapt to evolving climate risks.
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