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How Do Air Conditioners Contribute to Climate Change?

image credit: https://pixabay.com/photos/buildings-air-conditioning-china-455239/
Emily Newton's picture
Editor-In-Chief Revolutionized Magazine

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief at Revolutionized Magazine. She enjoys writing articles in the energy industry as well as other industrial sectors.

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  • Jan 11, 2022
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Environmental scientists recently updated the term “climate change” to “climate emergency.” The global crisis requires all citizens, professionals, and government officials to take the initiative by shrinking their carbon footprints. Researchers are identifying the top emission-producing technologies and systems to develop sustainable alternatives.

A significant portion of residential pollution comes from air conditioning units. Individuals and business owners can decrease the effects of global climate change by assessing the emission-production features of cooling systems. After evaluating the sustainability limitations, building owners can adopt low-emission air conditioning units and help enhance ecological conservation.

How Do Air Conditioning Units Affect Climate Change?

Air conditioners are essential components of residential and commercial heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Globally, appliances utilize nearly 10% of the electricity supply. Fossil fuels like coal and gas make up most of the electricity around the world.

Larger countries produce nearly 117 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually from air conditioning. The pollution derives from low efficiency and hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. High HFC usage results in stratospheric ozone depletion.

In 1996, countries began phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to reduce the enhanced greenhouse effect associated with climate change. Though HFC refrigerants have 20 times less of a climate impact, the accumulation of their emissions in the atmosphere may nevertheless cause significant damage. Enhancing the efficiency of air conditioners or eliminating their reliance on HFC refrigerants may slow climate change.

The impact of air conditioning units on the environment creates a cycle of degradation. As these units increase the amount of greenhouse gas polluting the atmosphere, Earth’s temperature rises. When the planet becomes warmer, individuals use their air conditioners more frequently, creating more emissions.

Environmental engineers and scientists search for ways to enhance the efficiency and sustainability of cooling units, seeking to preserve the atmosphere and the global ecosystem.

What Is the Impact of Air Conditioning on Society?

Reducing air conditioners’ emissions is essential to human health. As pollutants influence the enhanced greenhouse effect, researchers predict an increase in summer heatwaves. When summer temperatures rise, individuals may experience heatstroke, causing confusion, seizures, and sometimes death.

An increase in emissions also compromises local air quality, interfering with society’s lung health. Inhaling pollutants can cause asthma attacks and chest pain and may increase one’s risk of developing lung cancer. Low-emission air conditioning units were developed to minimize adverse environmental and health effects.

Environmentally-Friendly Air Conditioner Technologies

One of the most sustainable residential and commercial HVAC systems uses geothermal energy. Clean power professionals may increase individuals’ access to low-emission air conditioning by installing this sub-surface technology. They can place geothermal pipes in horizontal or vertical orientations, accessing natural temperature differentiations up to 400 feet beneath Earth’s surface.

In the summer, the systems remove heat from inside, filtering the air down into the ground. It also moves cool air from different sections of the Earth up to the surface and indoors. Because the technology relies on natural processes instead of fossil fuels, it enhances atmospheric conservation.

Another sustainable air conditioning alternative is an ice-powered unit. The technology cools internal water down in the evening, when outdoor temperatures drop, producing ice. It stores the ice and uses it throughout the following day, minimizing the need for HFC refrigerants.

The system also decreases energy use by nearly 30% compared to conventional cooling units. High-efficiency air conditioners also reduce energy waste, decreasing related greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy Star cooling systems use about 8% less energy than other models on the market. They have higher-than-average seasonal energy efficiency ratios (SEERs), improving their sustainability. Eco-friendly air conditioners help residents and business owners shrink their carbon footprints and their utility bills.

After installing an energy-efficient air conditioner, individuals can save up to 30% on their monthly utility costs. The technology also improves local air quality, decreasing the risk of adverse health effects. As environmental conditions improve, the global ecosystem may additionally experience beneficial impacts.

Pairing Energy-Efficient Air Conditioners With Renewables

Energy professionals may connect an air conditioner to renewable power sources, decreasing related emissions. Net-zero buildings power their HVAC systems using 100% clean energy. Individuals may pair their cooling units with renewable energy systems, increasing their sustainability.

Photovoltaic (PV) solar panels produce electricity by absorbing radiation from the environment. The natural energy knocks electrons loose, creating a flowing current. Transfer wires capture the current, creating an accessible supply of emission-free electricity.

Residents and commercial building owners can decrease their emissions and utility costs when using the technology. Solar panels offer the most affordable power supply, influencing individuals to connect their cooling units to the technology. Individuals may also pair their air conditioners with wind energy to minimize adverse ecological effects.

Last year, wind turbines created nearly 6% of the global electricity supply, exceeding a 743-gigawatt (GW) production rate. Like solar, on- and off-shore turbines create electricity without releasing greenhouse gases into the environment. Countries are using renewables to produce clean electric grids, supporting residential and commercial energy demands.

When nations decrease their reliance on fossil fuels, they can significantly shrink their carbon footprints. Clean electric grids also increase an individual’s access to emission-free energy to power their air conditioners.

Building owners may additionally connect their units to efficiency-enhancing devices to further decrease emissions.

Connect Air Conditioners to Smart Thermostats

Installation professionals can also connect air conditioners to smart thermostats, using the Internet of Things (IoT) to minimize energy waste. The thermostat technology uses artificial intelligence (AI) to collect consumer data, learning their schedules and habits. Smart systems can use the data to maintain energy-efficient indoor temperatures.

The devices also use a Wi-Fi connection to access local weather predictions in real-time. During summer nights, for example, the thermostat can detect a temperature decrease and turn off the air conditioner. They additionally use motion detection sensors to divide a building into various temperature zones.

The smart thermostat evaluates the occupancy of each zone, turning the system off in vacant regions. Over time, these IoT devices can decrease emissions and improve sustainability.

The Future of Sustainable Air Conditioners

Environmental engineers and scientists are conducting technological advancements, targeting air pollution from air conditioners. They are installing carbon-capturing devices in the units, producing cool indoor climates while decreasing emissions. When the technology reaches the market, individuals can offset their footprints and improve local air quality by installing a more sustainable HVAC unit.

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Thank Emily for the Post!
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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 11, 2022

A common refrain on the future of the grid is how EVs are poised to be the largest single addition to the utility power demand patterns since air conditioning-- so I wonder if there's any specific lessons this upcoming transition can learn from the history of ACs. Any thoughts, Emily? 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 11, 2022

"When the technology reaches the market, individuals can offset their footprints and improve local air quality by installing a more sustainable HVAC unit."

There seems to be a common misperception in developed countries that residents of less-developed ones care about sustainability. But they don't have that luxury. They care about feeding their families, about having any medical care at all: the essentials. It's up to those creating the climate problem, you and I, with carbon footprints multiples higher than theirs, to solve it.

The first step isn't using less dirty energy, it's making more clean energy available to everyone in society, energy that's available when needed. Believe it or not, the vast majority of people in the world (those living in the apartments in your photo) can't afford to run out and buy a new, more-sustainable HVAC unit - they're spending their hard-earned money on feeding their families - and if we wait until they can afford one, it will be too late.

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