The world is getting warmer, so will air conditioning become more common in the UK?


Although it’s common in many warmer countries, air-conditioning is relatively rare in the United Kingdom. You’ll often see in high-rises and in modern hotels, and it’s common in large office spaces, especially those that cram in a lot of people, servers and computers in a relatively small area.

Yet where we don’t see it is in our homes. Why is that?

The UK’s climate is rather odd

The United Kingdom is relatively far north, with most of it in line with the southern parts of Canada. However, while the continental United States, France, Germany and Austria often see heavy snow even though they are further south of the United Kingdom, the United Kingdom is generally warmer than them.

Conversely, Sitka in Alaska, Omsk in Russia and Warsaw in Poland are all warmer than London in the summer, even though they are substantially further north.

So what’s going on? Well, we have an oceanic climate, which means that the sea acts as a warming jacket around the United Kingdom. Sea temperatures alter less readily than land temperatures, resulting in a certain amount of stability. In addition, the Gulf Stream brings up warm water from the Caribbean, which further insulates the United Kingdom.

But climate change is threatening much of this.

Why is air conditioning important?

In most countries, heat is not the biggest issue of a warming climate. Instead, it’s humidity. The reason for this is due to the way that humans cool down: we sweat. In a dry heat, sweat works, because it simply evaporates, drawing out energy from the skin. However, when humidity levels are particularly high, sweat doesn’t evaporate, so it doesn’t cool us down. This is why a humid heat feels worse than a dry heat.

Air conditioning also acts as a dehumidifier, removing water from the house and cooling the house down. This allows us to be comfortable in our own homes.

Will air conditioning become necessary?

It’s entirely possible that air-conditioning will become necessary in the next 20 years. The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has surpassed the 0.4% mark, and this means that the Earth’s climate is likely to begin warming substantially over the next hundred years. As we have an oceanic climate, we have a large body of water that will gradually warm, creating much more humid conditions and potentially thunderstorms.

This means that without air-conditioning – particularly in older houses – summer days will become harder to cope with.

However, air-conditioning results in a much greater strain on the local energy grid, because it currently uses a lot of electricity. Although the economy of such systems is gradually increasing, it’s unlikely that the grid will cope with 20 million homes suddenly drawing a lot more energy during the summer months.

Consequently, it is likely that air-conditioning will start to play a vital role in our lives, but good home design will also be important to maximise efficiencies and ensure that as little coolness is lost as possible. Regardless of what happens, it’s a good idea to begin planning for your own installation over the next few years or potentially move to a house that already has air conditioning installed.

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