The cooling problem

Did you know that air cooling (aka air conditioners) is responsible for 4% of global GHG emissions?* To put that into context, GHG emissions from cooling are equivalent to the total emissions of Russia and roughly two times as much as the aviation industry.*

These emissions come from two main sources.

About half comes from chemicals, specifically hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which are used to achieve cooling, but leak from air conditioners (as well as fridges) after we’re done using them. HFCs replaced chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, which were destroying the ozone layer high in the Earth’s atmosphere. Unfortunately, when we chose HFCs, we were not aware of the big global warming effect (1000x larger than CO2).

The other half comes from the electricity needed to run air conditioners, which is mostly made from fossil fuels and is compounded by inefficient air conditioners. On average, air conditioners that are sold use two times more electricity than the most efficient models currently on the market.

To add to that, the demand for cooling is only expected to increase as global temperatures rise and incomes increase. The International Energy Agency predicts that sales of air conditioning units will grow by 3x by 2050 to 5.6 billion units.* The majority of this growth is expected to come from emerging economies, with India, China, and Indonesia alone contributing half of the growth in global cooling energy demand.*

This increase in demand for cooling creates a positive (or negative - depending on how you look at it) feedback loop. The more the world warms, the more we will need cooling for comfort and even survival in many parts of the world.

With GHG emissions from cooling already being significant and demand clearly on the rise, we need to achieve three things (next to limiting global warming in general): (1) implement policies to ensure people purchase more efficient air conditioners, (2) leverage new technologies that can further reduce electricity demand and use less harmful chemicals, and (3) adopt passive cooling strategies whenever possible.

How can we solve it?

Below, we address the three key ways we can solve the growing problem of cooling-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

1) Policy

Policy measures that require consumers to purchase more efficient and less polluting air conditioning units are key to avoiding the lock-in of more GHG-intensive conditioning units. While these technologies may be more expensive upfront, they pay for themselves through lower electricity costs. Furthermore, as these models become the standard, their costs are expected to decrease.

Fortunately, there are a lot of policies already under development or implemented.

For example, all governments in Southeast Asia (a region with one of the fastest rates of growth in electricity demand) are now developing policies for efficient cooling.*

And the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol, adopted in 2016, regulates the use of hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants to cut their consumption and production by more than 80% by 2047.* The US AIM act will run ahead of that target, aiming to phase down the production and consumption of HFCs by 85% below baseline levels within the next 15 years.*

2) New technologies

Conventional air conditioners (direct expansion air conditioners) typically have a coefficient of performance (COP) of about 1 to 3.5, meaning that for every unit of energy put in, 3.5 units of cooling are created. New innovations can be 95% more energy efficient than current market standards, while also using and leaking fewer HFCs.

Let’s take a quick look at two innovative technologies from our portfolio:

Blue Frontier

The team at Blue Frontier has built a novel commercial air conditioning unit that reduces energy consumption by up to 90% while also reducing the use of harmful refrigerants. It does so by using a salt solution, which when energy is applied to it releases water, becoming more concentrated. This concentrated solution can easily be kept that way, meaning the concentration can take place when renewable electricity is plentiful and cheap. When air conditioning is needed, the solution can be exposed to air, where it will absorb humidity and create cooling in the process. Here’s a video on its tech:


Transaera has developed an innovative dehumidifier that can increase the efficiency of existing air conditioners by more than 25%. Dehumidification is key to efficiency because conventional AC systems overcool the air to condense out moisture, leading to higher energy usage. Transaera’s dehumidifier is based on an innovative sponge-like material that spontaneously absorbs water vapor, allowing room air to dry. Dry air is easier to cool with a high-efficiency AC unit, thus reducing overall electricity consumption. Then, it uses the heat generated by the air conditioner, instead of wasting it, to dry the material for the next cycle.

3) Passive cooling strategies

Passive cooling strategies come in the form of building design, shade usage, air flows and more. A tree is the simplest example, with temperatures under a tree being 7-15°C lower than in the sun.* The University of Oregon estimates that passive cooling strategies can reduce the load on air conditioning by as much as 80%.*

What is the outlook and funding landscape?

The IEA states that cooling is not on track yet to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement — more effort is needed. Specifically, efficiency standards have to go up, where the average efficiency rating of new AC units would need to increase by at least 50% by 2030 in all markets.*

More efficient and affordable air conditioners will not only reduce our GHG emissions but also increase the wellbeing of people’s lives as we continue to warm our planet.

With cooling GHG emissions already significant, demand on the rise and policies being put in place, the market for innovative cooling tech is building. However, there has been relatively little funding flowing into the sector.

We are on the search for venture capital and private equity funds looking to invest in the next pioneering companies in this space!