Economic and social development and the environment have to live together; you can no longer have one at the expense of the other. Rather our aim has to be a world where everyone can live well and within the sustainable limits of our planet; cold sits at the nexus of this challenge.
Effective refrigeration could help to preserve essential food and medicine, make better use of land and water. It underpins industry and economic growth, and could provide a ladder out of rural poverty. Yet increased cooling will create massive demand for energy and, unless clean and sustainable cooling solutions can be rolled out, this will cause high levels of pollution. The world must not solve a social crisis by creating an environmental catastrophe.
Luckily, cooling is coming in from the cold. After many years on the side lines of the energy debate, the importance of artificial cooling to modern civilization, and the damage it causes to the environment and health, is at last beginning to be recognised. A two-day work shop – Cooling for All, a new initiative led by Sustainable Energy for All – brought together a strong leadership team in New York to start to work out how to move cooling to the centre of the debate and how we embed growing cooling demands that can reach everyone within a clean energy transition.
Clean cold – sustainable, affordable artificial cooling with minimal global warming or environmental impact – is nothing less than critical to environmental and business sustainability worldwide. A report published by the University of Birmingham Energy Institute earlier this year was the first to point out that achieving all 17 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (‘Global Goals’) would depend to a greater or lesser extent on developing clean cooling technologies – and for many Goals, clean cold would be vital. http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-eps/energy/Publications/Clean-Cold-and-the-Global-Goals.pdf
One problem is that when people talk about energy, they often mean electricity, and when they talk about energy storage, they mean batteries. This blurring of concepts matters because it fails to recognise some basic energy facts-of-life: that a large slice of our consumption comes in the form of thermal energy; that one of the fastest growing sources of energy demand over the next twenty years will be for cooling; – and that cooling would often be better served by energy carriers other than electricity and batteries.
If cooling is to be sustainable, we don’t simply need more efficient air-conditioners and fridges, but a fundamental overhaul of the way cooling is provided. This demands a new needs-driven, system-level approach to understand the size and location of the thermal, waste and wrong-time energy resources and the novel energy vectors, thermal stores, clean cooling technologies and new business models to integrate those resources optimally with various cooling loads.
But, in this way “clean cooling” has the potential to advance three internationally agreed goals simultaneously: the Paris Climate Agreement; the Sustainable Development Goals; and the Montreal Protocol’s Kigali Amendment. In other words, it could address poverty, reduce food loss, improve health, raise energy efficiency, manage our natural resources, support sustainable cities and communities, phase out refrigerants and combat climate change … concurrently.
Not a bad day’s work for a fridge.
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