Air Conditioning in Emerging Economies

Kaitlin Krull from Modernize prepared this article for Cleanleap. 

As the world population increases and modern amenities become available to developing countries, the desires and needs of these emerging economies are logically changing. In particular, air conditioning (AC) and ventilation have become essential for both domestic and commercial use throughout the developing world. However, we understand that this sudden upsurge in cooling needs has both financial and environmental costs. Thankfully, there are several ways that these communities can benefit from air conditioning in a low cost market while also balancing the surplus carbon emissions that have come from this sudden wave of excess air conditioning units around the world. 

Sudden upsurge in global AC requirements

Before discussing alternative, low cost, and environmentally friendly air conditioning options for emerging economies, it is important to understand exactly why there is currently a surplus of global AC requirements. In addition to increased population in emerging economies, an increase in consumer income levels and a revival of the housing market have piqued interest in this particular technology. These factors, combined with an increase in the development of reliable energy technologies, make air conditioning a necessity for domestic, commercial, and industrial clients in these areas. 


AC in emerging economies

When talking about emerging economies with regards to current AC needs, the areas of Asia and the Pacific (including but not limited to Indonesia, Thailand, China, and India) are at the center of this upsurge. The economies in these countries are growing at an alarming rate and their HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning) needs are, not surprisingly, increasing daily. 

Thankfully, there are significant technological developments that utilize alternative and energy efficient methods of cooling that are environmentally friendly and can help to offset the CO2 emissions produced by the Western world’s use of air conditioning. Split AC units, already in use in the United States and other developed countries, are more energy efficient than their traditional counterparts. However, several companies have recently developed units with alternative refrigerants, eliminating ozone depleting CFCs and HFCs altogether. For example, various UNIDO projects, the DEVap system (an evaporative cooling unit with no CFCs or HFCs), and the brand new R-32 refrigerant, launched just this week in Thailand by Saijo Denki, all have the potential to change the HVAC market for the better with positive implications for emerging economies. 

In addition to new technologies, the use of traditional cooling methods can bring comfort and relief to communities in the developing world, where electricity and the sophisticated technologies behind AC are not available to the general public. Passive cooling systems such as evaporative cooling (used in dry climates) and night flushing (for areas with a large day to night temperature change) are built into the design of buildings as natural coolants in order to regulate both temperature and humidity. 

For emerging economies where AC technology has not yet reached residential customers, there are several other ways to stay cool at home in the meantime that do not rely on specifically engineered buildings. Making use of shades, ceiling fans, ventilation, and natural shade, as well as changing the paint color of roofing to white in order to deflect the sun can all make a significant difference in even the most basic shelters.

What this means for developed countries

While the development of these new technologies is indeed beneficial for emerging economies, those of us in the Western world, where AC units as we know them are commonplace, may feel as if there is nothing we can do to help. Environmentally speaking, this is simply untrue. It is possible for us to further offset the sharp increase in energy use and ozone depleting emissions by switching to more energy efficient HVAC units. This includes inverter AC units, which lower energy consumption by up to 30%, and energy efficient heat pump heaters, which reduce CO2 emissions by 60% as compared to oil or gas burning heaters. It is also possible for us to decrease our carbon footprint further by making use of the traditional cooling methods stated above whenever possible and, with any luck, reverse some of the environmental damage done by our latest technological needs. 

Main Image Credit: Mark B Griffith Flickr