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All hands on deck

John Dulac, Energy Analyst, Energy Technology Policy Division, International Energy Agency (IEA), speaks on policy, the need for collaboration and the lack of incentives for efficient products to become market standard. Excerpts from the interview with Hannah Jo Uy…

| | Aug 9, 2018 | 1:24 pm
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Could you tell us about what drove the agency to develop the ‘Future of Cooling’ report and why it considers air conditioning a “blind spot” in the global dialogue on energy efficiency and sustainability?

John Dulac

There obviously has been quite a bit happening around cooling in the last year, particularly because of the Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol, and the IEA, with other agencies, has been supporting the subsequent Kigali Cooling Efficiency Programme. The IEA has also been involved in broader questions related to heating and cooling in buildings, particularly as part of discussions around energy transition strategies leading up to, and out of, the Paris Agreement.

One question, in particular, has been where the biggest potential for growth is – and what the opportunities are to address rapidly growing demand? This essentially led to questions, such as, ‘Do we have a good grasp of what will happen to cooling?’

Equally, there was a clear need to understand the implications of that growing cooling demand on energy systems. Historically, air conditioning has had a growing impact on energy demand – with cooling being the fastest growing end use for electricity demand in buildings. [There has been] an explosion of residential ownership in cooling, increasingly outside the typical cooling markets like the US, parts of Europe and Japan. A lot of this, especially in more moderate climates, like Europe, was driven by growth in the service sectors, such as commercial buildings, malls and offices.

But while AC ownership in places like Europe has been relatively low, it’s taking off at an extremely rapid pace in emerging markets like China and India. This is really a critical driver to try and understand, what’s likely to happen, as we discussed in chapter two. We look at ownership of air conditioning, which is particularly critical to comfort in many developing countries, as much as heating has been historically, for much of the western hemispheres.

Just as a point of reference, one of the reasons cooling has been a blind spot is that heating in buildings historically, and that includes today, represents more than half of a building’s energy consumption for a long time. But as we highlighted in the report, we think this will change drastically
in the coming decades and cooling demand takes off.

To underpin the importance among stakeholders to take action, could you highlight key take-aways and the most alarming findings from the report?
One of the critical messages of the report we highlighted in chapter two is that across the board, whether it be big countries like China and India, or smaller markets, what we see is that – what people are buying in the market today is far less efficient than what is available. And this is perhaps a key message: That no matter where you are, we can do something about making cooling demand more sustainable. That analysis also shows that policy is not keeping up with product availability of different technologies. We continue to work with Kigali partners on improving this assessment and are constantly collecting new data.

A key message for policy makers across the market is that we have a real opportunity in light of international consensus in the Kigali Amendment to do something about air conditioner performance. Recommended as one of the critical, straightforward action items in the report is setting better performance standards for air conditioning equipment in buildings. We also see that we need to communicate better, taking from lessons learned within industry and countries by collaborating. For instance, we might see in one country that they think “If [we] raise standards our industry and our products won’t be competitive”. But this is a subject of international importance, and we can do something about it. To do so, there has to be collaboration to set standards in air conditioning, to improve performance across the board, between now and 2050. Without action to address energy efficiency, energy demand for space cooling will more than triple by 2050.

Are manufacturers doing enough in terms of innovating more efficient products? How could manufacturers contribute in a non-commercial manner to a country’s energy efficiency and sustainability goals?
I think that there is innovation happening, that is for sure. The best available products we see are part of a gamut of available choices in the market. And the range of product availabilities from manufacturers is improving, with some new innovations or improvements.

For instance, treatment of latent and sensible loads is critical in hot and humid regions where simultaneous treatment of humidity and temperature is not what the basic AC technology was traditionally designed for. In a country with high humidity, like Indonesia, the AC is often working to condense that humidity and then reheat the air back to the desired temperature. What it’s doing is working double time, working to treat the humidity then working to provide the temperature set point.

There are other ways to do this more efficiently. For example, there is work happening with manufacturers in Japan and elsewhere to treat those loads separately through desiccants so the machine doesn’t work overtime. The same is also true of things like variable speed compressors and other technical developments that manufacturers are working on to improve product efficiency. But broadly speaking, there is a lack of incentives for those better products to become the market standard because performance standards are not keeping up with the potential.

What do you consider the bottlenecks in the uptake and acceptance of more energy-efficient technologies?
As I mentioned, performance standards are one critical element, but that is maybe an oversimplification of what needs to happen. Taking from historical lessons in energy technology and policy, it is not just about performance standards. We need cooperation across countries and interaction with manufacturers on what they are able to provide the market and what they need to make sure those products get delivered. We also need to understand what it is consumers are looking for in products, which might mean new products and solutions in the market and international collaboration to deliver on those.

One example, for instance, is the mission innovating challenge on affordable heating and cooling launched two years ago. This challenge is of looking at how to address heating and cooling in buildings through new or innovative measures. One task is looking to address cooling demand in places like India with alternative technical solutions that could be better suited for those markets.

I think it just goes to say that we need all hands on deck if we want to address the cooling issue. We need to drive the market from the bottom through performance standards and by collaborating with industry. We also need to pull from the top with better incentives to get people to buy better products, while also working with different stakeholders for better product development through research and innovation. Also, as we mentioned in the report, we don’t forget the importance of the building itself. Mechanical cooling using air conditioning is likely to happen at a large scale. But we can also address thermal comfort by improving design and insulation of buildings. This is a more difficult task, because it is a much larger and often fragmented market, but it could actually help to keep cooling energy demand constant while still allowing people everywhere to be comfortable in buildings.

Would you advocate a more holistic approach in building design practices in this context?
Exactly. I think if we look at how cooling works, it drives home this message of efficiency and how we design buildings. We can deliver more across the whole value chain, from cooling comfort to better access and affordable electricity, reducing local air pollutants and reducing emissions – all things we address in our report.

This report focuses on the role of more efficient air conditioners, but it links to a broader picture on how we deliver energy services in buildings. Cooling is a critical piece, because it’s important for people to be comfortable, so they can be productive, healthy, etc. On the one hand, if buildings are poorly insulated and air conditioners are running all the time, we can only hope that those ACs are very energy efficient. But on the other hand, we can design better buildings, reducing overall need and energy consumption for cooling. This can also increase capacity for energy services, without necessarily increasing total energy demand. This broader energy-efficiency thinking can help deliver on multiple policy ambitions. In short, it’s a domino effect.

Could you comment on what this means for retrofit projects, given that much of the existing building stock was created at a time when regulations were not only stringent but often non-existent?
A big part of the work we do on buildings at the IEA, including in what we do in support of the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, is a clear focus on “Build it right”. That means looking at new construction from an energy-sufficiency perspective, and then tapping into energy efficiency to make sure the energy we do need is used in the best way possible. But for the existing built-environment, energy efficiency, for example, improving  building envelope performance is even more critical, driving down the need for energy consumption as much as possible. This can be more complicated, of course, which is one of the reasons we focused on the value of energy-efficient air conditioners, since this is something that we think can be rolled out quickly. Air conditioning gets replaced every 10 to 12 years in general, so we have a real opportunity in the next decade to improve performance. In the meantime, we also need to ramp up the rate at which we renovate buildings and improve how well we renovate them.

In view of this, do you believe a holistic approach can be rolled out in such a way that both environmental and economic interest can be met?
Yes. There are historical examples of countries with more holistic programmes, working with manufacturers and policy-makers in a hand-in-hand process that makes sure we are delivering better products and solutions without them being more expensive. It’s about working through the value chain and getting the right products out in a way that is economically advantageous and competitive. That is a critical aspect for the air conditioning market today.

We see, across the board, manufacturers producing more efficient products. But standards are relatively low across all countries and what people are buying is not much better than those minimum performance levels. So clearly there isn’t a real incentive to make the better products the standard available choice. Energy performance standards are one critical piece to address this, but we also know working with industry would help facilitate this process and alleviate concerns – for instance, manufacturers saying “Hey, I don’t want to make better products [that] I can’t sell”. International collaboration is also important, to raise the bar for everyone and avoid issues of competitiveness, if manufacturers are trying to sell those better products in other markets.

This is why, first and foremost, our recommendation is collaboration across governments and private sector to make standards higher everywhere, driving markets together and alleviating some of these issues that equipment producers might see as a challenge to delivering more efficient cooling. Also, we need to dive deeper into market data to see what is already achievable with off-the-shelf products. For example, we have noticed in a few countries that the equipment produced by national or regional manufacturers is already more efficient than some products being imported. I think this just raises the flag that countries might be helping their own industry by setting higher standards. But this isn’t possible without better data, and it’s about dialogue with industry, getting to know what they are producing and how they can help to deliver greater products. Setting the standards higher might be in their interest already.


Hannah Jo Uy is Assistant Editor at Climate Control Middle East magazine. She may be contacted at hannah@cpi-industry.com

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