The Number of AC Units Installed Worldwide Could Quadruple by 2050

Window air conditioning units in East Harlem, New York.

Window air conditioning units in East Harlem, New York. Jason Kuffer / Wikimedia Commons

As global temperatures rise due to climate change, the number of air conditioning units in use globally is expected to quadruple by mid-century, increasing from 3.6 billion today to 14 billion in 2050, according to a new report by scientists at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. As a result, the world will consume five times more energy for cooling than it does today.

The report includes air conditioning units in homes and workplaces, as well as those used for activities like food and medicine storage and industrial processes. It estimates that in the next 30 years, 19 cooling appliances will be installed every second. With no advances in cooling technology, the report finds air conditioning could consume 19,600 terrawatts of energy per year globally, up from 3,600 terrawatts today. Electricity for cooling alone could consume more than 80 percent of the International Energy Agency’s projected total renewables capacity for 2050.

“With significant areas of the world projected to experience temperature rises that place them beyond those which humans can survive, cooling will increasingly make much of the world bearable—or even safe—to live in,” energy expert Toby Peters of the University of Birmingham, wrote in the report’s foreword. “Yet the growth of artificial cooling will create massive demand for energy and… cause high levels of CO2 and pollution. The world must not solve a social crisis by creating an environmental catastrophe.”