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The perverse cycle of a warming climate and the rise of air conditioners

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“Mad canine and Englishmen exit within the noon solar,” Noel Coward famously sang in 1931, mocking British colonials who ventured out into the scorching noon solar on the hottest time of day. “The Dutch additionally nonetheless assume the solar is their pal,” says researcher Lenneke Kuijer. Through the August 2020 warmth wave she investigated how Dutch households cope with sizzling climate. “It is time for change whereas it is nonetheless attainable,” she believes. “Much less air-con, extra out of doors shading and a distinct method of coping with warmth.”

The variety of tropical days within the Netherlands is rising quickly. Solely 100 years in the past, the temperature rose above 30 levels Celsius on common about at some point a yr. Now it’s already an average of five times a yr, with a peak of 8 days in 2020.

And the issue will solely worsen within the coming a long time, not solely within the Netherlands, but in addition elsewhere in Europe. Based on the newest fashions, heat waves (5 consecutive days above 25 levels Celsius, together with three above 30) won’t solely turn into extra frequent within the second half of this century, but in addition hotter and longer lasting. The trigger, it’s now typically accepted, is the greenhouse impact.

Air conditioners: simple and quick

What to do? You’ll be able to after all attempt to forestall the greenhouse effect (or mitigate it, as tried within the Paris local weather accords), however many individuals usually are not ready for that. “They’re already selecting the simplest and quickest answer: air-con,” says Lenneke Kuijer, researcher on the Future On a regular basis Group on the School of Industrial Design. By way of interviews, she investigated into how Dutch households cope with sizzling climate.

“As a society, we’re at risk of turning into increasingly depending on mechanical cooling to maintain our heads and our bodies cool, which isn’t solely inefficient, but in addition unhealthy. Have a look at what occurred final yr, through the August heat wave right here within the Netherlands. Essent, one in every of our fundamental power suppliers, noticed power demand enhance by 30 % then.”

“That is one thing that issues me vastly. The rising demand for air conditioners and the rising power consumption of those units are jeopardizing our aim of decreasing CO2 emissions. To not point out the truth that the coolants in lots of air conditioners act like an excellent greenhouse fuel. The irony is that in our effort to remain cool, we are literally making the earth—and our speedy surroundings—even hotter.”

How does an airconditioning system work?

There are two types of air-con. The best (and least sustainable) type is the cell air conditioner, which dissipates warmth by a hose to the skin. Cellular air conditioners are eagerly wanted throughout tropical days, however they do not work as nicely then, particularly if the opening by which the hose goes just isn’t correctly sealed.

The second system is named cut up air-con, a set air conditioner that consists of two components. The indoor unit comprises a fan that picks up warmth from the air and transfers it to a warmth exchanger containing a refrigerant (often hydrofluorocarbons, a infamous greenhouse fuel). By evaporating, it removes the warmth from the air and thus cools the room.

A compressor carries the new fuel to the condenser within the out of doors unit. There the fuel condenses and turns into chilly refrigerant once more. A warmth pump, more and more in demand to generate warmth from air, can also be a kind of air-con, however works in reverse.

There are additionally warmth pumps that may cool. A key distinction between these pumps and air-con is that warmth pumps cool the house itself and never the air, making the impact extra everlasting. As well as, floor supply warmth pumps are further environment friendly as a result of they will retailer warmth whereas cooling. This could later be used once more as ‘free’ heating.

One in 5 Dutch households now has an air-con system and 15 % are contemplating shopping for one. Worldwide, some 3.6 billion cooling units are in use, studies the UN. That quantity might rise to 14 billion by 2050, if everybody who wants cooling can afford it.

Based on Kuijer, folks usually buy air conditioners for 2 causes: they need a cool bed room and to have the ability to work cool. Particularly through the corona pandemic, when many individuals had been compelled to work fromo residence, the latter was the deciding issue.


Kuijer interviewed 21 households, with a complete of 60 residents between the ages of 0 and 70, each renters and owners. They lived in homes constructed between 1910 and 2019. Based on her, the interviews and the diaries present a consultant image of how the Dutch cope with warmth and provide good leads for additional analysis into wholesome and energy-efficient summer time consolation in Dutch households.

The interviews present that individuals already usually undergo from warmth, as illustrated in Determine 1. Through the warmth wave in August 2020, the temperature skilled by nearly all respondents was nicely above their most well-liked temperature (particularly throughout actions resembling sleeping and dealing) and partly additionally above the not too long ago launched Dutch guideline for preventing overheating in properties, which begins at 27 levels.

“My analysis clearly reveals two issues,” says Kuijer. “One, Dutch properties usually are not constructed for warmth, and two, Dutch persons are not nicely ready to deal with warmth.” By the latter, the researcher refers back to the relationship many Dutch folks have historically had with the solar and the outside. “Each are seen as associates, and warmly welcomed into the house”.

Nothing unsuitable with that, you may say, however this angle is working much less nicely now that we’re experiencing increasingly excessive warmth. “When it will get sizzling, we are likely to open the home windows, which after all brings within the warmth. Additionally, folks discover sweat, which in spite of everything helps to chill the physique, annoying and gross. Moreover, we nonetheless eat and work at occasions when it’s too sizzling, and we don’t regulate our clothes sufficient, particularly within the work scenario.”

Warmth tolerance

Kuijer sees roughly three sustainable methods to scale back the necessity for cooling: out of doors shading, evening air flow and acclimatization. One drawback is that it’s exactly these options that should compete with the much less sustainable air conditioners. They’re usually cheaper than blinds and supply speedy outcomes. “However what’s worse, air conditioners make it tougher for folks to get used to warmth. So the dependence on cooling is rising.”

“Cooling inhibits the method of acclimatization as a result of the temperature of the air conditioner doesn’t change with the skin temperature. We all know from physiological analysis that individuals can tolerate as much as one diploma greater temperatures day by day beneath sure circumstances. So your warmth tolerance will increase naturally, which additionally will increase your freedom of motion in sizzling climate. Cooling will get in the way in which of that course of”.

By the way, Kuijer just isn’t completely towards mechanical cooling. “It’s going to turn into more and more essential to maintain properties livable for sure weak teams. Nevertheless it ought to by no means be the one answer.”

Wake-up name

In her report, Kuijer suggests quite a few promising options that would contribute to energy-efficient, wholesome summer time consolation:

– Take into account subsidizing blinds to allow them to higher compete with air conditioners.
– Present cooling techniques by which cooling and air flow work collectively intelligently and the goal temperature rises regularly to advertise acclimatization;
– Give further consideration to lower-income households in city residences. This group suffers disproportionately from the dangerous results of warming.
– And at last: Decide to behavioral and cultural change. A wholesome and environment friendly indoor local weather wants the cooperation of residents, and a distinct method to the physique, the solar and out of doors air.
“The latter is maybe an important, but in addition probably the most tough,” says the researcher. “In that respect, my report is a wake-up name.”


The researcher emphasizes that her analysis just isn’t but full. The subsequent part of the VENI project (funded by the Dutch Research Council) is to consider provocative design ideas that look past cooling in terms of summer time consolation. “For instance, one in every of our provocations is a ‘sweatshirt’ that robotically distributes sweat all through the physique so that you just calm down higher.”

Within the third part, we need to additional develop the recommended options into sensible and practical suggestions, with which housing associations, governments, the refrigeration and air flow business and personal people can instantly get to work.”

Lenneke Kuijer’s analysis venture started in 2019 and can proceed till 2023. Extra data might be discovered on this page. The complete report might be learn here.

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The perverse cycle of a warming local weather and the rise of air conditioners (2021, July 19)
retrieved 19 July 2021

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