A Closer Look at Climate Change and Air Conditioners


The United Kingdom cannot meet its climate neutral goals by 2050 unless its citizens make radical lifestyle changes, including giving up red meat and flying in aeroplanes, the UK Committee on Climate Change has told the UK government.

Mike Hemsley, team leader for carbon budgets at the UK Committee on Climate Change, advised the government that if they wanted to get realistic about the 2050 target it would require big changes, including fitting roughly 30 million UK households with low-carbon heating by 2050, as well as building more energy-efficient buildings, developing technology to capture and store carbon, and doubling the country’s clean electricity capacity – by the mid-2030s at the latest.

They are but one of hundreds of countries grappling with the terrifying reality that climate change is no longer something that can be denied or ignored, and are clambering to find solutions before the irreversible effects of climate change begin wreaking further havoc on the world – its global south in particular.

Among the most obvious changes – beyond that of sacrificing meat and international air travel – is that of making British homes more energy efficient. Installing solar panels, growing one’s own herbs and vegetables, replacing incandescent lights with LED light bulbs, and installing more efficient showerheads and toilets are some of the best ways to use energy more efficiently in the home, but upgrading the way you cool and heat your home can have an even more meaningful impact.

Portable air conditioners have cropped up in recent years as not only a more affordable but a more energy efficient approach to cooling a warm home. Using cutting edge, up-to-date technology, portable air conditioners are able to travel from room to room – wherever their users wish to put it – and cool down different zones individually. As opposed to using central heating, which conditions the air of an entire house and sucks up lots of energy by doing so, portable air conditioners are smaller, with more targeted functioning and therefore utilise less energy. Buying a smaller portable air conditioner makes sense for rooms like a small bedroom, office, orden, as it can cool 100 to 250 square feet – though there are larger portable air conditioners designed to swiftly cool larger rooms, too. People are buying up portable ACs like they are going out of fashion: according to a new market report published by Industry Probe, the global portable air conditioner market is expected to expand at a CAGR of 2.8% from 2019 to reach US$ 7.34 billion by 2027.

The latest breakthrough in portable air conditioning technology is known as ‘self evaporative water recycling’, which means that these air conditioning systems can re-use huge amounts of the water they create, thus running more efficiently with lower power consumption. A number of small portable ACs on the market offer this type of technology, with some capable of re-using up to 75% of the water they create.

A small team of researchers has also pioneered a new water-based, portable air-conditioning system that cools air to as low as 18 degrees Celsius without the use of energy-intensive compressors and environmentally harmful chemical refrigerants. The system, designed by the Department of Mechanical Engineering at NUS Faculty of Engineering, consumes about 40% less electricity than regular compressor-based air-conditioners used today, which means a more than 40% reduction in carbon emissions. It also generates potable drinking water while cooling air – a fantastically cool (pardon the pun) new feature.

There are also portable AC models that have been integrated with ‘smart’ home systems: with a corresponding app that lets you control and monitor the unit remotely from your smartphone or tablet, you can turn your air conditioner on just before you get home as opposed to leaving it on all day and wasting precious energy without actually being in the room and benefitting.

If we stopped where we were right now and did a quick tally, we would find that there are just over a billion air conditioning units in use in the world today. That means roughly one per person, and the numbers come mostly from America and China – not the UK or the rest of Europe. By 2050, this number is projected to be more like 4.5 billion as the rest of the world catches on and the global heatwave continues to tempt countries into widespread AC adoption. By 2050, this will mean air conditioning will be responsible for almost two billion tonnes of C02 annually and 13% of all electricity usage worldwide. Something needs to give.

Through making a simple change in your air conditioner type, it can have a serious impact. Switching to an energy-efficient eco-friendly portable AC unit, while also thinking more deeply about whether or not you really need the air conditioning switched on in your room 24/7, are just a few ways that your changed habits can help stave off the impacts of climate change.

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