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SE Asia looks to efficient cooling

THAILAND: Growing demand for air conditioning in the world’s emerging economies could spur a 64% increase in household energy use and produce 23.1 million tonnes of carbon emissions by 2040.

This was just one of the findings in a new white paper presented at the inaugural Asean Cooling Summit in Bangkok today. The Summit, organised by UN Environment and publisher Eco-Business, brought together a diverse group of leaders from business, government, civic society and academia to discuss solutions for sustainable cooling in Southeast Asia.

In addition to worries about the increase in energy consumption, concerns were raised over the use of high GWP HFC refrigerants. The Summit explored cooling in the context of sustainable development and identified solutions to increase the adoption of energy-efficient technology, remove financial barriers, and raise awareness of the critical need for climate-friendly cooling systems.

The new white paper, Freezing in the tropics: Asean’s air-con conundrum, commissioned by the Kigali Cooling Efficiency Programme (K-CEP) and Eco-Business revealed the need to sound the alarm about the impact of cooling on the environment in Southeast Asia.

It reports that cooling technologies such as refrigeration and air conditioning could account for 40% of Southeast Asia’s electricity demand by 2040.

It estimates that if Asean countries switched to energy efficient products for cooling, they could reduce electricity consumption by 100TWH – the equivalent to the annual production of 50 coal power plants – at a saving of US$12bn annually.

Yet there was little awareness of the necessity of energy-efficient cooling to meet national emission reduction targets, though one cause for hope was the widespread sentiment that buildings are sometimes cooled to excess.

Almost half of the respondents voted for “increasing the development of solar plants” as the most important way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the region, rather than increasing the efficiency of air conditioning units.

The paper also revealed that the general public has low awareness of the refrigerants used in air conditioners and the impact they have on the environment. Over 45% of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement “people in my country are aware of the harm that air-conditioning refrigerants do to the environment”. 

The paper also includes a case study on Indonesia, which has the third highest use of air conditioning in Asia after China and India. Despite the high proliferation of air conditioners in the country, there is little understanding of the benefits of energy efficient and sustainable cooling  among the public, and the government also takes a relatively hands-off approach to campaigns promoting energy-efficient products.

Dan Hamza-Goodacre, executive director of K-CEP, said: “Providing clean, efficient cooling for all is one of the 21st century’s biggest opportunities, especially in the Asean region. Society reaps huge health and productivity benefits from cooling, but few of us realise that an air conditioning unit is like a carbon bomb. Inefficient cooling from the use of polluting fluorinated gases could result in 1°C of global warming, and this must change. Businesses know the answer, governments need to encourage change and consumers need to make smart choices about the cooling technology they buy.”

Download the white paper here.

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