The Virgin Group co-founder Richard Branson has put US$3 million towards the new competition, which will incentivise the production of more environmentally sound air-conditioners.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on November 14, 2018

“The increase in energy consumption for cooling represents a massive risk to meeting our climate goals,” Branson said as he launched the Global Cooling Prize.

He also said he hoped the award could “literally help save the world from the disaster it’s facing.”

The prize comes on the back of the publication of a new report that suggested the expansion of air-conditioning alone could cause a rise in global temperatures by half a degree by 2100.

The Global Cooling Prize will incentivise innovation

The competition was jointly announced with the Government of India, global clean energy initiative Mission Innovation and non-profit organisation Rocky Mountain Institute.

The prize’s website notes that today’s most advanced air-conditioning technology has only reached 14% of maximum theoretical efficiency and most units operate at less than 8%.

The prize aims to change that. It will require participating companies to produce air-conditioning solutions that operate with five times less climate impact than existing units and that can operate at no more than twice the cost.

Next year, the prize will award US$200,000 to 10 companies, facilitating the construction of prototypes. These prototypes will then be tested in laboratories and apartments in India. The winner will then receive at least US$1 million.

Iain Campbell, Managing Director at Rocky Mountain Institute, also said the market was not rewarding energy-efficient air-conditioning units and was instead driven by price-based competition.

Branson was optimistic that the market failure seen in the air-conditioning industry could be fixed and said the prize could counter the high cost of research and development in the field, which acts as a barrier to entry.

“If we can disrupt the airline industry, where a single Boeing 737 can cost north of $70 million, then I’m pretty sure we can do it with air conditioning,” he said.

The big picture: the number of air-conditioning units worldwide is expected to soar

Air-conditioner usage is expected to rise to mitigate higher temperatures. A 2017 study forecast that up to 74% of all people could be exposed to deadly temperatures for at least 20 days a year by 2100.

India has seen a particularly sharp growth in the number of installed air-conditioning units and is projected to have 1 billion room air-conditioners by 2050.

The number of air-conditioning systems installed worldwide is expected to rise from around 1.2 billion currently to 4.5 billion by the midpoint of the century.

Header image credit: Kris Krüg