USA: The organiser of the Global Cooling Prize, backed by Sir Richard Branson, has called on the air conditioning industry to join in its work to increase efficiencies.
While recognising that air conditioning was vital to keeping people cool as the planet warms, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson described air conditioning efficiencies as “pathetic” and accused leading manufacturers of being an obstacle to change. In a blog on the Virgin website earlier this month, Branson said a “handful” of dominant companies were selling as many air conditioners as they could, as cheaply as possible and had “barely scratched the surface” of their technology potential.
In November, it was announced that Sir Richard Branson was backing the Global Cooling Prize, a new $3m initiative, backed by the government of India, to find a more efficient residential cooling technology.
Responding to comments on the Cooling Post, Iain Campbell, a senior fellow at the Rocky Mountain Institute, one of the organisers of the Global Cooling Prize, confirmed that Sir Richard Branson was referring to the room air conditioning sector, a sector that will see over 3 billion units sold over the next three decades.
“These units will be sold in highly populated developing countries located within the subtropics, meaning hot and humid and hot and dry climate zones leading to extensive operating hours,” Iain Campbell told the Cooling Post.
“This sector suffers from a massive market failure where individual buyers struggle to understand the implications of rating systems and will largely focus their buying decisions on a combination of first cost, brand, and aesthetics.”
Iain Campbell has broad knowledge of the air conditioning industry. Prior to joining the Rocky Mountain Institute, he was eight years at Johnson Controls, latterly as corporate VP energy, sustainability and government affairs. Before that he spent 22 years at York International, in numerous positions in the UK, France and the US, rising to President Americas.
Campbell backed Branson’s criticisms of residential air conditioning efficiencies: “Where minimum energy efficiency standards exist, they are largely “pathetic” in relation to the best-performing equipment in the market and even more so in relation to the theoretical potential as defined by the Carnot cycle.
“In this market environment industry players win through lowest cost and brand strength and get there through scale. In this sector, 70% of the world’s production resides in China with half of that coming from just two manufacturers. This is not a problem they created – what they did was to find a way to win in the existing market landscape, which is what for-profit enterprises are incented to do,” he said pragmatically.
“That said, let’s not kid ourselves that these market attributes are only found in the room air conditioner sector – we also see them in adjacent sectors where lifecycle cost and rating systems are not well understood or contemplated in buying decisions and the mass market often congregates around the minimum energy performance standards and not the most efficient solutions, which are often two to three times more efficient.”
Iain Campbell emphasises that the organisers of the Global Cooling Prize, as well as creating greater awareness, discussion and debate, are also working to demonstrate to policymakers, institutions, and major buyers around the world what is actually possible.
“In turn, we hope to influence markets to send the signals that they want more than just minimum efficiency products and to create the demand that our HVAC industry can respond to,” he said.
The Global Cooling Prize is backed by a coalition that includes the Government of India (representing 1 billion of the units that will be purchased over the next 30 years), Mission Innovation (an initiative of 23 of the world’s largest and wealthiest countries under the Clean Energy Ministerial), the World Economic Forum, The World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme, and many of the world’s air conditioning and refrigeration industry associations.
“This is a fine industry with enormous talent – I worked within it for over 30 years. Please join us in our work. There is perhaps nothing more important that we can do in our careers than to ensure that people around the world have access to cooling for comfort, productivity, health, and economic gain, but with cooling that has a light environmental footprint and does not add further to the perils of runaway climate change.”